How can we do this differently?
Teachers need inspiration
One of Edith’s comments on why she chose not to become a teacher after graduating as a sciences teacher echoes what Darlene pointed out in our previous conversation, that teaching isn’t “sexy.” Teachers aren’t made to understand the delicacy and importance of their vocation nor are they celebrated when they do it well. Perhaps this relates to my thoughts on our learning culture in general, however, I do think this presents a ripe opportunity for entry into fixing our education system. Empowered teachers who are aware of the importance of their work and what it means to do it well, who are equipped with effective and innovative strategies, are continually challenged to improve their craft, and are celebrated for their work are likely to make meaningful differences in students’ lives.
The value of not knowing
When speaking with Edith about the differences between children and adults in their approaches to learning, it struck me just how true it is that adults are less keen to learn or ask questions.
Taking comfort that what you know is time-proof is dangerous, especially in the fast paced dynamic business landscape we operate in. What you may know today may be valid, but it may not be useful to solving a problem that may come up tomorrow. That is why I think it’s more important to have a learning culture that encourages continuous learning.
I also think curiosity is generally a pleasant state of being. It allows an openness to experiences and new information that may enrich our understanding and challenge our assumptions. In a culture where we conflate not-knowing and seeking answers to naivete and childishness, we lose out on rich learning opportunities.
East Africa, Tanzania especially, has a learning culture problem
When posed with the question of why we aren’t able to develop strong learning cultures in the workplace, Edith backtracks to the family level. I appreciate this insight because it points to the larger problem we are contending with - that is the lack of a learning culture.
First, at school, the education system encourages rote memorization. A quick look at past papers of the national form four exams reveal as much through the heavy use of questions that ask what, who, and when as opposed to questions that demand deeper interconnections of information through analysis to produce critical responses. It is hardly fair to expect a student who undergoes 12 years of the kind of learning that encourages them to only remember to produce thoughtful responses to real-world problems in their context, let alone at work when they eventually become employees.
Secondly, at home, parents do not feel the need to enrich their children’s learning because, as far as they’re concerned, that’s the school’s job. Few students are encouraged to bring home what they’ve learned and draw meaningful connections between knowledge gained and the real world they live in.
Thirdly, at the cultural level, we value and encourage reverence to authority which has unfortunately become conflated with suppressing critical thinking and expression of divergent opinions which are essential to learning. I have been out of the Tanzanian public school system for a long time, but when I was in it, I don’t remember ever being asked for my opinion on any of what I was learning. I wasn’t challenged to think for myself or to connect what I was learning to what I was seeing in my neighborhood or community. I also remember the fear we had to ask questions lest we seem like we were ignoring the teacher or trying to “act smart.”
I think it is extremely important to own these problems so that we can begin reformulating our approaches to solving them. We do know that these strategies and approaches to teaching and learning have not been effective thus far (employment skills gap, low output of high quality research, etc). It is a tall order to change a culture from the family level, but certainly not impossible. I am hopeful and grateful for organizations and people who have already begun addressing these such as Ubongo Kids, Smart Codes, Shule Direct, and others I am yet to know.
In organization, learning has to be strategic, top down, personalized, and all hands need to be on deck
An organization seeking to become better has to harness the brain power of its people. Most organizations seem to believe people come in ready with knowledge and that is all required for them to do their job well. What they might miss in this assumption is the fact that the knowledge people come with is not contextualized in the time nor the the organization - learning allows for this synchronization of knowledge as it fits into the organization with its goals.
For learning to be effective, too, top management has to communicate a compelling imperative of the learning and demonstrate its commitment to facilitating learning experiences and closely oversee that these experiences are being translated into actionable insights and outcomes. In short, top management has to take the lead with developing a learning culture and trickle it down to day to day operations. Once every level and individual are on board, top management can then enlist the help of everyone to ensure effective learning occurs and solves problems that are pertinent. At the end, evaluation of the effectiveness of this endeavor, as Edith points out, lies with every individual involved - each evaluating themselves, their supervisors, subordinates, peers, department, and organization in general in how effective their learning has been in advancing organizational goals.
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