“Learning” to me can be classified as a cliché because the word has been used so much that its meaning has abated and also suffered as a supposed synonym to “Memorization”. Before speaking on learning, we have to be accurately sure of what it really is and not what it has been portrayed to be.
What Learning actually stands for.
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines learning as “the act of gaining knowledge or skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing something”, Oxford’s word reference point also portrayed it as the same. Dictionary.com however, depicted how the vast majority saw the word. Its first definition for learning was “knowledge acquired by systematic study in any field of scholarly application” while the second definition stood as “the act or process of acquiring knowledge or skill”. The first definition to the word by the site is restrictive, we are more poised to enclose learning into academic study but that can’t be real because I learnt a lot from my Grand dad who never even enjoyed the comfort of a school desk. Empirical learning is what Africa had before the white colonies emerged on their land. Sections with the zest to learn surrounded themselves around fires and listened attentively while an old man or lady shared stories usually about the history of their natives and myths. This was basically how activities, norms, values and the culture of the people were passed down from the old generation to the young. Oral facts. There were no documentations on paper. The closest of any form of documentation to tell stories were done by the Cavemen on walls of their caves during the Stone Age or Paleolithic era. With respect to this, learning took place because each and every generation added up information to already existing information to make the world a much better place for the human race. Evolution (The change in the genetic composition of a population over successive generations)favors this ideology, but that is not the reason for this post. This is not going to be a battle between Religion and Science.
Using the Ghanaian Scope to judge Africa
I will like to judge issues from the Ghanaian scope because I have been a victim of a system that kills what real learning is. In the Ghanaian context, learning is equated to memorization and not necessarily what the above dictionaries have told us (excluding the first by Dictionary.com). No one has said that, but actions usually speaks much louder than words and the educational system of Ghana has depicted memorization as its peak. Why do I say so?
Are African Leaders Showing Signs Of Learning?
Most of the country’s political leaders under democracy were either lawyers or economists, these men did so well in their examinations and some went as high as Professorship yet were not able to use their “supposed knowledge” acquired to make their countries better places globally. Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia who was a Deputy Governor of the Bank of Ghana during ex-President J. A. Kufuor (a Lawyer)’s era could not help stabilize our economy while in power. He was an economist. The late Professor John Evans Atta Mills (3rd President of the 4th Republic of Ghana) studied Law at the University of Ghana in 1967, attended the London School of Economics-LLM in 1968, obtained his PhD in law at the University of London, became the National Tax Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service (1988-1996), a lecturer at the University of Ghana for 27 years before becoming the president of Ghana. Let us take note that, he had his PhD after completing his doctoral thesis in Taxation and Economic Development. What happened when he became President? Things were simply not close to perfection, economic development and taxation were not pleasing to reality’s eye but only to that of some political factions. The country’s current vice president, Kwesi Amissah-Arthur was the 12th Governor of the Bank of Ghana. Before that, he obtained a B.Sc and M.Sc in Economics at the University of Ghana. He is simply considered an Economist. What has happened so far under his time? Nothing but consistent retrogression in the living standards of the ghanaian people.
Why do I relate these men to “memorization” and not “learning”?
They passed their examinations to be who they were, remembering what was in the books helped with that but as to whether what they memorized would have been transformed into an applied use, relied on real learning. This is very simple. If they actually learnt those economic and law theories, applying them should never have been a problem. Definitely, a high possibility arises that this could be the status quo of numerous African states since development in the continent is virtually the same among its nations. Most countries in Africa have institutions identified to be educational, with numerous professors, doctors, lecturers and teachers who virtually do nothing but teach students how to grasp theory. Student-Teacher interaction is low and sometimes formalities are so high that students are not able to open up to question what they do not understand. Lecturers usually make haste to complete the curriculum before examinations at the expense of the student’s understanding of the concept being taught. I have seen this happen at the University I hope to escape, its the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology. Fear, that is all they need, they instill fear in the student with the threat of examination. I personally know a lecturer at KNUST who is known for saying “No one can have an ‘A’ in my examination”. It seems the aim of education now is to pass end-of-term/semester examinations rather than acquiring and applying knowledge. That is the current learning environment of most universities around Africa and even the world. That is how bad things are in institutions that are supposed to aid in the socialization process to help the individual stand out in a more competitively stricken environment, the world.
The Ideal Learning Environment
I can not be like the many who are always geared at bemoaning and decrying problems without suggesting solutions. By now, there is a hanging question on what an ideal learning environment is. The audience can redefine this based on the awareness created and reiterated so far. But speaking of my ideal learning environment, I will set in for the African Leadership University, Kroton’s Unopar University or the Ashesi University. In fact, my ideal learning environment should have the following, the presence of a mentor to guide the student on what is appropriate to grasp, the peer relationship and a reduced form of formality to ensure understanding is maximized. It should also see the whole world as a classroom thus, there shouldn’t be an exact place or time to learn but rather a form of learning motivated by the authentic zest to quest for what one does not fathom. An ideal learning environment should not put unnecessary weight on the student to learn unnecessarily because of a forthcoming examination but rather encourage the student towards the lifetime application of whatever is discovered via online material, mentorship, experience, own research and probably the media.
Is the Future Bright or Dim?
In line with the nature of an ideal learning environment, one may need to know how the future represents itself. Could there be hope that an ideal learning environment might materialise since ideal situations are seen hardly achievable or long lasting? Perfection is what humanity has hoped for right from the inception of man. This is never a falacy. The future is bright. An ideal learning environment has its place there. “The University of the Future” is never going to be what we’ve seen. Education in itself has changed in all aspects. It used to be a black slate or board, which changed to a white marker board, and finally we have lecturers almost writing nothing with the help of Microsoft’s presentation program, PowerPoint. Judging from the progression of the academic time, we have seen a gradual movement into something better and I am certain that the future will be way better than the current state. It may seem ridiculous or absurd if we realistically follow the rate at which changes occur. But the picture looks brighter with few institutions titled universities because many are gradually focusing on online tuition due to the benefits attached to it. That is, if there are going to be universities, they will not be structures like KNUST or Havard. It will be a softcopy university engulfed in the internet.
Learning will not be just as we have been experiencing right from crèche. Having a lecturer teaching a large class will be frowned upon when the numerous realize how bad this form of education is for the student’s participation. I am reminded of a quote from Benjamin Franklin on learning. He once said, “Tell me and I forget, Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” The vision of future learning does not suggest that teachers or lecturers will not be needed in the University of the Future. Students will need mentors to guide them into what to study and is important to know. This University will mean what it actually stands for, a universal scope of knowledge geared towards nothing but application to make the world much better than it is. Learning will be grouped-based but at the same time be intrinsically motivated by the passion to know more and independence when it is due. This was the secret to Albert Einstein’s success. He revealed that to his 11 year old son, Hans Albert Einstein after developing the general theory of relativity in 1915 through a letter. Here is a quote from the letter, “That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.”
Utilizing the Positives We Have Properly
Our generation indubitably has some opportunities previous generations only dreamed of. Now, how can we leverage our technology and peers? How can we use the two to the world’s greatest advantage? This is not alien and difficult, the fact that we have not been able to maximize that to our greatest benefit does not necessarily guarantee we can’t or will never achieve that. All we need is an effort. The effort to forgo effortlessness in the maximization of technology and our peers. We need to take note that wisdom is not found in one man’s brain but rather spread out through the many brains of humanity. Out of humility, we need to seek help when things get tougher in the quest to learn the unknown. Who knows? That friend you least expected to understand what you were battling with could be the key to a new discovery of happiness and success. We also have to encourage our peers to push forward no matter the nature of hurdles one has to jump over. Sometimes, it takes a little word of encouragement to make things better. Anytime one gives an opinion, we shouldn’t be quick to give a rebuttal as that might spring up into an argument which will prevent effective listening. (Effective listening is another great way of learning but things should not always be about listening as enhanced by lectures but should involve the listener. That is the boundary.) We should rather in the nicest way possible, seek a reason for the opinion raised. Through that opinion, a detection to change the world could be made. A discovery of science, joy, education, success, peace and togetherness. Technology on the other hand is of immense potential. The potential to be used in a positive or negative manner. Nuclear bombs and the Laptop computers are all epitomes of technology’s output yet we see differences in what these two can do. One can be used to process information while the other, used to sweep a whole citizenry into the hands of death. The internet miserably has all kinds of unfiltered information though. A 7 year old might deliberately or mistakenly watch pornography on the internet. This same internet has the biggest library of information in the world. Innumerable online courses, some which are paid for and others free are found on the net. Sites like Khan Academy gives video tutorials on virtually every course in academic study for free. I personally also learn a lot from videos by the Prager University and Technology Entertainment Design (TED).
We as a generation have had an opportunity the Aristotles, Socrates and Platos never had. That is the interconnected unseen web, the internet. Google and Wikipedia are there to provide answers to bothering questions. Facebook, Twitter and even image sites (Instagram and Tumblr)should not be restricted to social grounds. They can also play a role of a medium for sharing information worth grasping. Some people sit in the comfort of their homes and with a click of a button, are able to transact business across the globe. We have to use it to our ultimate benefit. I have now developed a rich peer network, thanks to ALU. These are people from different backgrounds but the common goal of making Africa better than it is, I am ever ready to learn from them. Who knows? The big break I need in life, the opportunity I am seeking for can be landed by my frequent interactions with them.
Professorship Is On Threat for the Future.
The University of the Future loves mentorship other than teachers and lecturers. This indubitably poses a threat on those professions and their growth. There will be no professor in the traditional sense in future since everyone will be busy focusing on the application of knowledge acquired rather than the awarding of theoritical prizes. I fortell a practical revolution ousting out theories in careless abundance. Just for the sake of analysis, in case there is a professor, there will be only one. The one found in the universal university. He will portray himself in numerous ways. Using polytheism in greek mythology could be an example, some will see him in technology, many will see him in the zest to learn more, and others will also perceive him as a mentor. At the end of the day, results will matter and not an old man with white beard depicting wisdom, doing nothing but pouring out all he has learnt without taking the rate of grasping of each and every student into consideration. The God of learning will be very simple, APPLICATION of theory. Theory will be the basis everyone would have to acquire masterdom and not the end product of education.
This is the Revolution in African ideology. A world view. It has already been started. Fred Swaniker (founder of ALU & ALA, Patrick Awuah (founder of Ashesi University)and Salman Khan (founder of Khan Academy) are exemplaries aiding in this revolution through their outputs. We need to oust out memorisation and crown application, the king for a greater Africa and World. We cannot do this by focusing on killing the negative status quo but rather having focus on building what we need to replace the present status quo. Everyone is needed to champion this aim. The world needs this to survive. It definitely needs this!
Achaab Daniel Abalansa
Facebook: Achaab_dan GH
Judging from recent emails, I think people are a little displeased about that part. The part attacking leadership and attributing them to the Chew-and-Pour era. Who knows? Maybe I spoke against the political idol of their faction. But things are getting so bad to accomodate a check on whether the truth hurts the feelings of others. I have to ensure re-explanation though to clear the air on that issue. Speaking about the leaders, outputs judged if they really understood what they claimed they learnt. That is what makes us different from some parts of the west. Its like stuff are in a format. You change the format and you wreck everything. For instance, students are more poised at following a formula normally in mathematics, when you omit the formula, the whole situation becomes a problem. The student is simply lost. Now that is not understanding a problem? A problem in academics is the unusual. It takes thinking to solve unusual problems. It takes real learning to solve problems unknowable. And the only reason why real learning can do so is that it allows the learner to fathom situations from the core. Ghana’s problems as at now are not caused by a single administration. They are cumulative. They came as a result of the actions and inactions of past and current administrations. We saw signs of DumSor even in President Kufuor’s era. Our economy is used to high inflations. Petroleum costs were increasing against the living standards of the people even before we found oil. Someone might say we do not have the funds, technology or expertise.It takes more than money to solve our problems as a nation. It takes the ability of out-thinking selfish investors. It seems the one to append signatures always makes the mistake to ignore the weight of interests between the nation and that foreign investor or project co-ordinator. But we have money though, its just that it goes into the pockets of supposed financial custodians. Expertise, it does not take being a non-ghanaian to have that. If only our education system is committed to groom experts, it will. That will only be by adding and subtracting what is necessary. Technology, its a fusion of funds and experts, we can get that. Now, that in reality is the issue about our leadership. I had to mention them and I am not sorry for doing that. They were a part of the spear and they supposedly had what that poor child without education longs for yet Ghana remains the same.