Large class sizes, insufficient teaching and learning materials, weak quality assurance systems, limited training opportunities for faculty members… these issues are familiar to many universities across the world and undermine the quality of higher education.
To tackle this, the PedaL project is working to entrench innovative pedagogy across five African countries, improving the teaching and learning experience for students and staff alike – and leading to higher quality graduates who are better equipped to contribute to socio-economic development. Here, the PedaL team share an update on the project’s progress.
The Pedagogical Leadership in Africa (PedaL) project is part of the UK aid-funded Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) programme. PedaL is a formal African-led partnership of seven institutions, led by the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR, based in Nairobi), with the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Egerton University (Kenya), University of Ibadan (Nigeria), the University of Ghana, Uganda Martyrs University, the African Research Universities Alliance, and Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex (UK).
PEDAL works with university leadership in Africa to deliver participatory, student-centred pedagogical training to the continent’s tertiary institutions. Since its launch in 2018, the programme has introduced and embedded innovative teaching and learning approaches that are already enhancing the educational experience for instructors and thousands of learners in graduate programmes.
Influencing university practices and policies
Across the continent, PedaL is catalysing a systemic shift from dominant traditional teaching models to more participatory, student-centred approaches. The approach encourages educators to use participatory methodologies and move away from the form of educating where the lecturer is the expert who tells the class what they need to know in a factual and literal way. PedaL training, designed collaboratively by the programme partners, includes a suite of integrated interventions across the design, context, processes and content of teaching and learning. Pedagogical tools include case studies, flipped classroom, simulations, role plays and threshold concept tools such as concept maps aimed at maximising learning outcomes among students.
The programme has contributed conceptually to our understanding of online teaching. PedaL has increased access to, and understanding and use of, open education resources, tools and technologies such as Moodle, in which teaching staff can employ interactive and multi-media resources. This has opened opportunities for an increase in blended learning approaches that combine traditional classroom-based teaching with online learning. In June 2020, as African universities went into lockdown due to coronavirus and many moved to distance learning, PedaL successfully piloted a month-long online course for educators on the pedagogy of facilitating learning online.
Uganda Martyrs University and Egerton University have successfully accredited the PedaL model as a training programme for educators, thus sustainably embedding the model.
Reflecting on the impact of the programme so far, Dr. Beatrice Muganda, Team Leader of the PedaL programme, said: “We believe that the students of tomorrow will not be the same as the students of today."
Building capacity at scale
The PedaL model enables capacity building at scale. The programme takes a ‘training of trainers’ approach, where core resource persons lead workshops and support promising participants to grow into the role of trainers. Trainers teach beyond their country of residence, enabling opportunities to share learning across countries. It its first two years, the programme trained 55 trainers (25 female, 30 male) who then enhanced the teaching capacity of 1,089 educators (647 male and 442 female) from 60 universities across 10 African countries. PedaL has already received positive testimonies from students taught by our trainees, indicating that this programme and its model of teaching will reach thousands of students.
PedaL has started to see a snowball effect. PedaL-trained teachers have gone on to voluntarily train other teachers, while teachers’ testimonies show that in some universities, students are demanding to be taught the ‘PedaL way’. One PedaL trainer also participated in a training event in Bangladesh, training staff members from BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University; International Centre for Climate Change and Development, Independent University of Bangladesh and Asian University for Women.
The PedaL consortium was built on previous relationships and collaborative initiatives; IDS has worked with PASGR since 2012 on the Professional Development and Training Programme (MMRC) hosted by the PASGR Methods Institute.
For the partners, the project has strengthened existing relationships with the Professional Development and Training programme and built new ones across the 14 collaborative Master of Research and Public Policy (MRPP) universities in eight African countries: Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Botswana and South Africa. Five of the 14 MMRP partners now lead the PedaL consortium, and the pedagogical strategies used in PedaL were highly influenced by the MMRP. The success of the project has resulted in high levels of demand and interest in being involved. The project focuses on the social sciences but interest from those in the natural sciences and arts and humanities has prompted the partners to expand PedaL’s remit. Some participating universities have started to mainstream and self-fund the PedaL approach, with much interest from those teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, a positive indication of the potential sustainability of the model and evidence of our growing network.
The programme has been a learning opportunity for the partners. IDS Director of Teaching and Learning, Linda Waldman, said: “it has encouraged me to always remember the pedagogy behind the exercise and to raise the significance of pedagogy in IDS. There is a tendency to forget the complexity and depth of the learner’s experience, focusing instead on what the lecturer is delivering. PedaL has inspired us to be more ambitious about scaling participatory methods beyond small groups and intensive sessions.”
Why has the PedaL programme been so impactful?
PedaL’s structure, reputable members and leadership have been core to its success. The structure of the partnership, a consortium of highly reputable universities promoting participatory methods, contributed to the scale and depth of buy-in and impact which is far greater than any individual university or small project could have achieved.
The partnership has been collaborative, evolutionary and equitable; all partners have a sense of ownership over the project and have built it up together by recognising and harnessing each other’s strengths. Beatrice Muganda commented: “the partnership stands out as one with a deep level of shared values, including resilience, patience, appreciation, selflessness and working within constraints.”
PedaL prioritises the principles of embedded and embodied knowledge: the question of ‘whose knowledge counts’ is fundamental. The partners are committed to enabling learners to own and use knowledge in a way that reflects their positionality. The curriculum was developed through a very collaborative and participatory process, with a focus on indigenising the curriculum. This resulted in some brilliant, unique ideas, such as a lecturer transforming his persona and clothing into that of a traditional storyteller.
The most enabling factor for widespread behaviour change has been that the programme stimulates university lecturers to be creative, particularly in contexts with limited resources. It is this unique approach that has provoked a willingness among universities to share the cost of the programme and stimulated greater uptake on a limited budget. It has also helped that resource persons are willing to invest a significant amount of pro-bono time in the project.
The consortium has faced challenges but members always work together to find solutions. Time has been a significant constraint. With partners across the continent (and the UK), increasing demand and a tight programme schedule, the team have not always had the time they wanted to retreat, reflect, document and tell their story.
IDS staff greatly value working with such reputable partners that demonstrate excellence, innovation and mutual respect throughout their work. Reflecting on the partnership, Linda Waldman said: "Not being the lead partner has been an important experience for us, and the approach of building role models that are African lecturers and African trainers has been influential for IDS beyond the partnership. The values of the partnership chime with our new strategy, which puts building future leadership for development and addressing inequalities at the core. We are grateful for all we have learned from the partners and hope to continue our collaboration far into the future."
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PedaL is part of the SPHEIR programme. The Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) programme is funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and is managed on behalf of FCDO by a consortium led by the British Council that includes PwC and Universities UK International.