Time to rethink and retool for experiential teaching and learning

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· Searching for uncommon geniuses for Africa

The overview of my “Creative and Critical Thinking” course goes like this: Creative and critical thinkers are innovators. They tend to take the road less travelled and set their own rules and paths for others to follow. Such people tend to be visionary, dynamic, curious, uncommon, unconventional, and unwavering.

More or less, the prescription fits some of the greatest thinkers and doers the world has ever seen in that they think ahead of the common pack and make relevant connections between ideas, and focus on accomplishments. The connections help to explore and fully understand the world we live in and their roles in it. They examine their inner beliefs to make sure they are not stuck in other people’s definitions.

Critical thinkers

Critical thinking is not just the accumulation of facts, figures, and knowledge; it’s a way of life. A way of examining whatever occupied one’s mind so that they come to the best possible conclusion and action. Critical thinkers are focused on constantly upgrading their knowledge and engage in independent self-learning and lifelong learning. They make some of the best thought and action leaders, and are able to reach new heights of self-improvement and self-actualization.

It’s a profound mystery how the brain manages intuition, personality, and artistry; but it is in the process of experiential engagement that new profound knowledge is constructed. With that in mind, the American educator, John Dewey (1859 – 1952), led the constructionist view of education and noted, “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday, we rob them of tomorrow”.

Surely, it was on that note that the presidents of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) teamed up and attracted about 200 educators to a summit convened (March 3 and 4, 2013) on both campuses, at the Radcliffe Gymnasium, and the MIT Media Lab Complex. The faculty in attendance were to re-think fresher standards and re-tool their methods for a more productive teaching “to rise all boats”. A key concern was for them to help the youth engage experientially to solve the world’s myriad problems, and for the faculty – with “on-line” tools – to act more like coaches than lecturers.

Soar like eagles

At the British Council, Accra (January 31, 2015) the Baraka Policy Institute organized a seminar, “Access, Quality and Relevance in the Context of National Development”. In my keynote presentation, I borrowed a leaf from Aggrey to show that children (including the girl-child) possess an inbuilt God-given capacity “to soar like eagles”. I illustrated that point with two videos: one of a primary school girl teaching her peers algebra, and another of a Junior High School (JHS) girl teaching her class the structure of the human heart and how oxygenated and de-oxygenated blood flowed through the various arteries of the vital organ to sustain the human body.

In an experiential learning format (i.e. learning by doing) that same class mounted canopies in the vicinity of the school to screen residents for high blood pressure as an outreach community health program to prevent heart diseases.

After the videos, I suggested to the audience that if the JHS girl – and others like her – were to be apprenticed to Ghana’s world class heart surgeon, Dr Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, in the thoraxic unit at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, it should not be surprising if she performed open heart surgeries by the age of 20 years. Ghana has such potentials in droves, but unfortunately, we fail to recognise them.

Experiential education

As noted often in preceding columns, quality education boils down to empowering the youth to chart experiential paths, knowing that geniuses are supported and encouraged that way. The days of merely sitting, memorizing stuff – filling in the blanks – are fast receding into oblivion. As those petty chores pale off, they have to be replaced by bold initiatives that bring out the authentic abilities of the youth. Those may be measured by “Authentic Assessments” of real-life accomplishments

The need for an upbeat functional education is a worldwide concern. In these days of information explosion through Google, YouTube and the rest, merely passing exams with glitzy scores is not that kosher anymore; it used to be so when information was so lacking that even the paltry possession of it was a sacred revolutionary act.

Real life accomplishments

As noted often in preceding columns, mere cognitive abilities serve as indicators of possibilities only; they are not accomplishments. Today, open ended tasks requiring students to creatively integrate different subjects, to find real life solutions to nagging societal and worldly problems, qualify as accomplishments.

It just happens that bold deeds (the so-called “moon shots”) evolve out of experiential learning but are unfortunately conspicuously absent in typical teaching environments in Ghana, and most parts of Africa. So then, the educators themselves have to be spirited and motivated beyond reproach so as not to dampen the spirits of the youth by cajoling them to memorize old notes, to conform, to settle in, to follow the pack, to copy the mainstream actors, and so on.

The attention is for educators to update themselves and to help raise the youth with the wings to overcome mediocrity and see the world as a theatre in which their own ideals, thoughts and practices are of utmost importance.

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com

Website: http://www.anishaffar.com

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