Dr. Damtew Teferra is a professor of higher education, the leader of Higher Education and Training Development, and founding director of the International Network for Higher Education in Africa, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He is also the Editor-in-chief of the International Journal of African Higher Education. He may be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
For all the debates and dialogues on ‘massification’ and revitalizing of higher education in Africa, little to no attention has been afforded to the state of the teaching praxis of academics in the institutions. Most academics are not known to have been trained to teach; and yet they are expected to catch up on the job.
The process of doctoral training is a preparation for research undertaking; it is an induction to the complex scholarly culture of research. Therefore, a PhD is not typically a teacher training endeavour, and holding a PhD does not guarantee, contrary to the popular demand, the requisite skills and abilities to teach. More so, a typical early career academic (ECA) in an African context is not a PhD holder and thus highly unlikely to be endowed with neither the teaching nor research opportunities. What is even more daunting is that a typical university classroom is fast growing in terms of volume of students while their preparation and their basic skill levels (in language, academic calibre, and technology) are increasingly lacking.
It is at the background of this premise that a two-year study to explore the state of induction of ECAs in several African universities had been conducted at the University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN), South Africa with the support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The study had the following four main objectives:
- determine how ECAs in African universities learn to teach;
- understand how ECAs are conducted to the academic profession as a whole and teaching in particular;
- establish the extent of requisite tools, support, and incentives that universities provide to ECAs for their preparation; and
- document the needs of ECAs in their preparation to the academic profession in terms of teaching.
This multi-country and multi-university study had been conducted in seven institutions in Africa which include the Universities of Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Eduardo Mondlane (Mozambique), Ghana, Ibadan (Nigeria), Kwazulu-Natal (South Africa), Makerere (Uganda), and Witwatersrand (South Africa). In most cases the studies were conducted by resident researchers at the respective institutions and this helped to capitalize on insider information though we recognize both the pros and cons of such approaches.
Ethiopia: Admasu analyzed the significance of, what is called, the Higher Diploma Program (HDP) implemented in Ethiopia from 2004 to 2015 to enhance capacity of academics. His study indicated that the HDP, which is embedded with multiple objectives, was entirely developed by a foreign institution, lacks contextualization of the programme to national realities and needed close involvement of local academics.
Ghana: On the basis of a cross-sectional study, Alabi and Abdulai, from the University of Professional Studies, analyzed the state of ECAs in Ghanaian universities. They found out that the integration of young academics into universities in Ghana remain inadequate. They concluded that young academics are not systematically inducted into the teaching profession and thus are not properly empowered with the requisite professional skills for effective teaching.
Mozambique: Cossa, Buque and Fringe, at Eduardo Mondlane University analysed the ECAs under the prism of multiple learning discourses. They concluded that ECAs are in need of not only training programmes to promote their teaching knowledge but also further upgrade their higher education, as nearly 60 percent of the academics at UEM hold only a Licenciatura, a bachelor’s degree.
Nigeria: Udegbe, at Ibadan University, undertook a survey of more than 100 ECAs based on a combination of stratified and convenience sampling. Udegbe among others found that: prior experience and training impacted perceptions of competence, preparedness and job involvement; that much of the teaching guidance, sources of influence and approaches adopted by the ECAs were largely based on external experiences from outside the institution; and that more females than males reported poor mentoring, heavy workload and little training as major obstacles in their career development.
South Africa: The study covered two institutions from South Africa: the Universities of Kwazulu-Natal and Witwatersrand. Subbaye and Dhunpath, at the University of Kwazulu-Natal, employed an on-line survey for the study preceded by a pilot. They observed policy tensions at the university, and concluded that while formal induction of ECAs in the teaching profession is mandatory in terms of institutional policy, their development as competent teachers over time is not systematic and continuous.
Reddy and her colleagues interrogated the mandatory academic development programme, called University Education Induction Programme, developed and delivered by the University of KwaZulu-Natal. They drew on Kolb’s (1984) experiential model of learning with ideas of andragogy as expounded by Knowles (1984) in the analysis.
Osman and Hornsby, at the University of Witwatersrand, invoked the concept of Communities of Practice (CoP) Situated Learning Theory as a basis for foregrounding the discussion on ECAs. They concluded that ECAs get no direct and explicit support for teaching and that the greatest support emanates from disciplinary colleagues.
Uganda: Ssempebwa and his colleagues chronicled and analysed the state of ECAs in terms of their teaching at Makerere University using survey tools and interviews. They found out that the teaching experience is influenced primarily by ‘self-help’ reading on teaching and the pedagogy of their teachers—as the ECAs are not trained teachers nor are they given any systematized teaching induction programs.
This study reveals, in a number of cases, the existence of programmes and initiatives dedicated to enhancing the calibre of teaching of ECAs sanctioned both nationally and centrally. In a number of cases, however a systematic effort that inducts the ECAs into the academic profession is lacking.
This study has both policy as well as academic tractions that may help trigger interventions by academic leaders as well as other relevant entities. It is anticipated to enlighten diverse constituencies including policy-makers, development agencies, external stakeholders, even academic institutions in the importance of qualified and well-prepared ECAs in the service of teaching – and much-needed quality of education.
The study sufficiently demonstrates the increasing realization of African institutions in the importance of inducting ECAs to the academic profession. It also advances that academic institutions will increasingly pay attention to the teaching knowledge and skills of ECAs – the praxis. In the era of ‘massification’ and fast dwindling senior academics, the systematic and strategic enhancement of the calibre of ECAs – which now dominate the academic landscape – cannot be overemphasized.
*This is an abridged version of an introductory article which preceded the multiple studies published on the Special Issue of Studies in Higher Education, 2016 Vol. 41, No. 10.
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