What is it like to be a lecturer at Mulungushi University?

Teaching at the Mulungushi University is principally lecture-centered with following the lectures as the main teaching method. Pedagogical skills are valued but not a requirement. AgriSCALE provides an opportunity to include something new in the curricula at the Mulungushi School of Agriculture and Natural Resources (SANR).


Text Edward Syampaku Photo Mulungushi University


Mulungushi University is one of Zambia’s public universities. It was established as the third public university after University of Zambia and Copperbelt University. However, unlike the first two universities which are financed through government bursaries and student loans, Mulungushi University is established on a self-financing model. Students largely depend on own financing although a few students get some loans. However, these students are required to prove that they are unable to finance themselves. This implies that each school needs to have sufficient numbers of students to justify its existence. Currently, some schools do not have numbers of students to operate above breakeven point. One of these schools is the School of Agriculture and Natural Resources (SANR), the main partner of the project AgriSCALE.


Becoming a lecturer at Mulungushi University


Becoming a lecturer at Mulungushi University is relatively easy. One just needs to have first- or second-class bachelor's and master's degrees in the relevant field. Pedagogical skills are not essential requirements for joining the university. However, pedagogical training and experience are added advantages during the recruitment process.


Recently, the university has recognised the need for teaching methods to be imparted to lecturers, and short training programmes are normally arranged to enable them acquire teaching skills. A point of emphasis is that the School of Education recruits lecturers with teaching skills. Thus, that school could be considered to be an exception to the rule for other schools. Lecturers in that school are generally expected to have been trained as teachers and practiced as teachers or trained but not practiced as such at some point in their careers. Otherwise, outside the school of education, lecturers are, by and large, subject matter specialists only.


Teaching situations at the universities


Teaching situations are generally defined by lecturers. The basic infrastructure comprises of classrooms, laboratories and some practical infrastructure like the farm, greenhouse, apiaries and honey processing unit. The most important teaching method is lecture method. Thus, teaching is basically teacher-centred.


Because the practical infrastructure is also used for commerce, it is used for demonstrating and hands-on experience only. Activities in such infrastructure are prescriptive. Only the greenhouse is used for both experiments and commerce. Thus, use of infrastructure to allow students to stretch their minds is limited. Of course, student-centred teaching is practiced depending on the experience and the pedagogical training that the lecturer has acquired. The hands-on training methods have limited application due to insufficient facilities, especially laboratories. Some laboratories are conducted at other universities or the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI). Use of learning trips is used but not frequently due to cost implications.


Valued lecturers and teaching skills


Valued lecturers are those with high student performance and low student failure rates. Of recent, there has been pressure to have high pass rates. Thus, lecturers that can demonstrate to have high pass rates are appreciated. The second group of valued lecturers consists of those who can handle a number of courses because they reduce the cost of recruiting other lecturers. Thus, at Mulungushi University, it is common to have lecturers teaching 3 to 5 courses per semester.


The third group of valued lecturers comprises lecturers who can teach both full time and distance learning students. Lecturers who teach both full time and distance learning students handle around 6 groups of learners per semester. The fourth group of valued lecturers is that which handles both undergraduate and postgraduate learners. This group may even handle up to 5 courses and 8 groups of learners per semester. The fifth group of valued lecturers is that of lecturers with computer skills to enable them to handle a lot of online teaching programmes.


The use of online teaching and assessment is one of the most valued teaching methods. The university has placed a lot of emphasis on that method especially for distance learning students. The other valued method is use of module notes for student reading. All courses have modules, and each lecturer needs to produce a module for his/her course.


Role of the student in the usual teaching techniques


The role of students is mostly to pay attention, follow through the lecture, and provide feedback to the lecturer. In some cases, students are allowed to probe and demonstrate the knowledge they have acquired through reports and presentations either individually or in groups. Thus, students must be present at all lecture, tutorial, practical and assessment times.


Assessment is more of a requirement for students than a self-assessment tool for a lecturer. As such, the university allows for only three assessment activities i.e. pieces, especially for distance students, because the university has limited remuneration to only 3 pieces. This practice has taken away the use of assessment for self-evaluation with a view to improve teaching and the opportunity for learners to improve themselves. Usually, the more assessment pieces learners have, the more they improve themselves.


The value of AgriSCALE to SANR


The university management sees that AgriSCALE offers an opportunity to improve teaching skills of lecturers especially on student involvement. The opportunity is in curriculum development, teacher skills and student involvement.


AgriSCALE is also related to the curriculum review process that took place at the SANR in April and May 2021. The emphasis in the process was in the inclusion of circular bioeconomy in the curriculum to produce graduates and agri-entrepreneurs who can develop and run enterprises in combinations that do not produce waste. All programmes in the three departments of SANR will offer courses that will reflect this feature.


The other interesting feature of the curriculum review is the inclusion of agri-entrepreneurship across all programmes and the emphasis on hands-on training to provide solution-based teaching. This means that from the academic year of 2021–2022, the lecture method of teaching will be less important than before and gradually being replaced by problem-based learning methods.


AgriSCALE can indeed facilitate a change in the role of the lecturer at School of Agriculture and Natural Resources in Mulungushi University.