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Problem-Based Learning: Panacea for 21st Century Education?

Text Iida-Maija Kalmanlehto, Chewe Nkonde Photos UNZA

In sub-Saharan African countries, including Zambia, thousands of young people graduate from higher institutions of learning with the expectation to find jobs shortly after. Yet, the number of available jobs has not been growing at the same pace as the growth in the number of college and university students graduating on an annual basis.

As a consequence, a greater proportion of new entrants on the job market remain unemployed for unbearably long periods of time. This has been a source of concern to policy makers and development agencies. Evidently, the competition for jobs is hard and as such, having the right skills to successfully navigate the 21st century economy has increasingly become inevitable.

Doorway to School of Agricultural Sciences, University of Zambia

Trainings on problem-based learning and competence-based curriculum development have started in online mode for the six African partner universities in three African countries. At the University of Zambia, phase one of the training was held on 24th and 26th March 2021 with management and academic members of staff in the School of Agricultural Sciences. During the training, participants were given an overview of problem-based learning and the need to place the student at the centre of the learning experience.

The feedback from participants was very positive, and a number of them looked forward to the second phase of the training. There they would get the real chance to develop the necessary skills to be front and centre of crafting and executing the right curricula for 21st century education.

Sylvia Harrison Ng’andu, a lecturer in the Department of Animal Science, was excited to take part in the follow-up training.

Screenshot of the Zoom training
Participants were excited about the training.

"The problem-based learning approach looks like a better approach than the traditional pedagogical approaches in terms of equipping students with skills and competencies relevant in today’s global economy", comments Peter Kaluba from the Department of Soil Science.

In general, the discussions that followed the presentations pointed to the fact that entrepreneurial skills enhancement should be prioritised in the School of Agricultural Sciences’ ongoing curriculum review.

In an exclusive interview with the Dean of the School of Agricultural Sciences Dr Benson Chishala, it was clear that the School is committed to transform its training approach. He was delighted that this training has come at the right time and hoped that the training would be available for more staff members in order to change the way the university educates students.

Benson Chisala
Dr Benson Chisala, Dean of the School of Agricultural Sciences

Dr Chishala further states that the School is currently reviewing its curricula to enhance entrepreneurship training and industry networking.

"The training on problem-based learning is very relevant for us in the field of agriculture”, Chishala remarks.

According to the Dean, the current curricula, though technically sound, has not adequately challenged students to think of real and tangible solutions to problems that continue to bedevil the food, agriculture and natural resources management sectors in Zambia.

"One would expect that our students in the School are supposed to graduate with hands-on skills to engage in agricultural related enterprises to address low productivity and market access challenges. The irony is that our students are not any different from students graduating with degrees in other disciplines because they lack the practical skills and competences required to navigate the new economy", he says.

Department of Animal Science staff display a newly acquired milking machine.

When asked about the type of skills that the School would like to see in its graduates, Chishala suggested that an ideal graduate should thoughtfully identify something that they are able to do based on the knowledge gained in their training.

"Whatever idea a student identifies, they should believe in their ability to develop it into something that is implementable while taking risks along the way. At the end of the day, they have to be fully convinced that this is something that would be for the greater benefit of the society", the Dean further explains.

Dr Chishala concludes by stating that in order for students to be equipped with the requisite skills on the job market upon graduating, there is a real need for the type of pedagogical training such as the one being offered by the AgriSCALE project.


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