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Opinions of Monday, 15 October 2018

Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah

Filling the knowledge gaps; teaching is a subversive activity indeed

I used to read about writers who say they’re moved to tears about a situation.

Sadly that is how I now feel about Ghana.

And I have to admit I used to challenge my mentor a lot; always eager to offer my ‘opinion’.

But as JB Danquah’s poem says, ‘I engaged the English….and I loved them’.

So I engaged my mentor in a vigorous fashion.

Then a few years ago, he sent me a story about a train that had derailed in Accra, despite media publicity of the restoration of the Accra to Tema railway line.

‘I will not challenge you anymore’, I wrote back.

Our educational system is past rotten; it now needs serious surgery.

When you hear Dr Elsie Effah Kaufmann, the National Science and Math Quiz hostess speak to Kwaku Sintim-Misa, the satirical TV show host, your heart will burn.

‘They can tell you everything about theories, they can describe everything, they can explain everything, but they cannot apply anything’, said the bioengineering lecturer of the winners, some of whom sit in her university class.

‘Wo yem b? hyehye wo’, is a better transliteration of ‘Your heart will burn’, because in this Fante version, you feel that it is not only your heart that burns, but your belly/womb also. Hysteria!

Last month, the news media quoted Dr Michael Oppong-Kusi of African Partners Medical Foundation speak about the ‘cadaver and paper model’ of teaching whereby medical students were taught Human Anatomy in class and went home to their books to cram the knowledge.

‘Ask yourselves, in this age of Google, do we have to go the same old way?’ he queried.

But I have bad news for both doctors and all of us.

We know or ought to know that it is a bad practice for university lecturers to dictate notes for students to copy.

But the new low is that the students are now demanding that the notes be dictated or prepared and submitted to them to go and read.

Maybe because they have paid fees….but is Ghana the only place where students pay fees?

How about where students do not pay fees or are on scholarship?

Are the students saying that they want their source of knowledge to be limited to only the lecturer’s?

How about this; you release lecture notes one week ahead of the class and yet no one has time to read or ask any questions about the material?

So why do they come to class despite having the lecture notes ahead of time…is it to clock in?

Or to see their friends aka ‘I was here some’?

What does a lecturer do if the students’ recommendations are required to retain her or him?

Are you prepared to be nailed to the cross?

The questions are endless.

I just love teaching; it’s my passion.

And I teach at various levels though I’m not a trained or professional teacher.

Indeed, ‘Teaching is a subversive activity’ as my mentor taught me and then handed me a hard copy of the book of that title signed 1975.

Of course, everyone who treasures his serious documents takes it back from you.

But (s)he teaches you to READ for yourself and discover your own truths.

‘Don’t take it just because I said it’, my mentor will always chide me. ‘Have you found out for yourself?’

‘This is not kindergarten’, he will add.

Kaufman is emphatic, ‘…we need to rethink the way we’re teaching and the way we’re educating our young people because they have so much potential but it’s not being translated into useful products and solutions of our real life problems’.

Dr Ernest Teye Matey, the conductor for the recent Space Science Research and Presentation Competition for High Schools in Ghana, organised by All Nations University College, Koforidua, said the research topics given the students had most of the findings on the internet and that he wanted students to see the internet as a useful learning tool.

Got bad news for you, sir.

At the university level, they’ll go and copy everything from Wikipedia and paste it for you.

And when you talk, they laugh about it.

I’m not talking about average students but the brightest with potential.

Sadly, don’t many of our lecturers in Ghana also do that?

And don’t some still give exactly the same notes they gave to their students of 10 years ago?

Are you ready to say it as it is….with candour….and be nailed to the cross?

‘The goal of education…of the words you are parroting is to solve existential problems,’ my mentor can’t repeat this enough.

His concern is that we do not even know what education is; we equate schooling with education.

‘Don’t think, just know’, was how my mentor caught my attention.

Or rather was it I who caught his attention with my “I think that” quip.

Knowledge is important; we must learn the rubrics of solving problems- technical skills.

And we must learn how to learn- this is one of the objectives of university education, so that you can continue learning on your own when you’ve become a product of the university ‘management process or system’.

And then…learn how to think- conceptual skills.

I know my students will love to read this.

Or have I scandalized them?

If you’re a student who’s gone past the basics and your colleagues are slowing you down, how do you feel?

Once in a Junior Secondary School class where I teach, a final year student asked me a question and the student’s own classmate (a 14 year old) shook her head in disbelief and gave a puzzled stare at me and the questioner; she couldn’t believe her ears that her classmate will ask something that a class one pupil already knows.

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge’, says Einstein.

But here we are, even struggling to acquire basic knowledge.

‘We haven’t even reached the level where we can begin to think,’ says my mentor about the Ghanaian situation. ‘So just know, that’s all.’

‘Don’t you know that we must eradicate the mosquito, don’t you know that we must cover our gutters, not burn garbage….’

To fix our existential problems, I am calling on my fellow teachers at whatever level to help fill the knowledge gaps.

The students will call it ‘Non sylla’, ‘A deviation’, but that’s okay.

Sajjad Haidder and Francesca Mariotti have published an article on this subject in the International Journal of Knowledge Management Studies, Volume 4, No. 1, 2010.

They observe, ‘… in filling knowledge gaps organisations put in place a series of knowledge mechanisms which lead them to socially interact with their alliance partners. Both the deployment of existing knowledge and the creation of new knowledge are based on processes of interaction, which derive from the interplay between alliance actors’.

They conclude, ‘…through both social interaction and the use of boundary objects, individuals are able to communicate, engage in problem-solving activities and share their ideas to fill knowledge gaps’.

There you go; ‘social interaction…individuals are able to communicate’.

This article has not deviated from the mission of this blog after all; sometimes we just love to leave the inferential meaning to the reader.

But we always make sure there is “Clarity and Precision”.

What we are saying is that the public relations officers of the various universities in Ghana and all teachers at all levels must let their students have a thorough orientation about the goals of teaching and schooling.

To do that effectively, PR practitioners working for our universities, marketers of our business schools and MBA programmes, and advertising executives designing sleek promotional material for schools must know and have a thorough understanding of the products they are selling.

Otherwise they could be accused of misrepresentation.

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