Transforming Employability for Social Change in East Africa (TESCEA)David Musoke
Transforming Employability for Social Change in East Africa or TESCEA is a three-and-a-half-year project, supported by the FCDO-funded Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) programme. TESCEA aims at transforming teaching and learning, initially at undergraduate level, by making courses more relevant, teaching more learner-centered, and the learning environment more transformative for students. In two years, we have made great strides and seen some promising early results – engaged faculty, excited students, and changes in the learning conversation. In the process, TESCEA seeks to build strong relationships with business, communities and government, so they are involved in shaping and delivering learning in and beyond the classroom, and so that they are ready to receive graduates on completion of their studies – in short, to make graduates more employable and better equipped to play the much-needed roles in society and the economy.
Globally, economies are changing fast. The 4th Industrial Revolution is predicted to have a significant impact on economies and societies in the East African region and beyond. It will require graduates who have a different set of skills, and to be ready for jobs which are not yet known. It will require graduates who can navigate new digital environments, appraise many different sources of information and data, bring new technologies to bear on solving problems, and be entrepreneurial and creative in their thinking.
TESCEA is built on a philosophy of transformative learning. Transformative learning is about putting students and their learning at the heart of the process, and designing teaching and learning such that students are enabled to grow and develop as individuals, rather than simply be trained for a job. It means lecturers becoming facilitators of a learning process, not transmitters of knowledge. We are teaching for critical thinking and problem-solving. This isn’t about teaching a set of skills, or a body of knowledge, but about equipping students to be able to think for themselves, to appraise and assess information and evidence, and to use it to formulate arguments, and to solve problems. At the same time, we are making teaching gender responsive. Too often, poor pedagogical practices reinforce gender inequalities in the classroom. A gender-sensitive pedagogy addresses this by integrating gender into the processes of curriculum design, teaching and learning, class management and assessment.
TESCEA seeks to accelerate change. Many initiatives to improve teaching and learning have sought to re-design a whole degree programme. This is valuable, but also takes time. It takes longer for students to benefit, and it takes time from many staff who need to be involved. Once approved at university level, those changes may also need to be ratified by the National Council for Higher Education.
We identify core courses in the first, second and third year of a programme, and we work with academic staff to re-design them. This creates a pathway from the first year to third year, so that students develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills through their studies.
Business and communities are part of the process. We don’t just involve business, industry and community once we have completed the re-design process, we engage them from the very beginning. Business people, policy makers, NGO professionals and social entrepreneurs have helped us to understand what kind of graduates are needed in the world, and how our programmes can meet that need. Each university has formed a new Joint Advisory Group (JAG), to bring expertise to help guide the development of the curriculum and to conceive new modes of practical learning beyond the classroom.
TESCEA is responding to the learning challenges presented by COVID-19. It has developed an online learning programme to train lecturers who will support their peers and is supporting staff to develop skills and knowledge in e-learning and online facilitation.
For Uganda Martyrs University alone, 161 staff have been trained to embrace a critical thinking method that enhances the needed skills for the 21st century. TESCEA has supported 1,224 students and even much more now to undergo these innovative methodologies of learning. Across 12 programmes, 54 courses have been re-designed to capture the innovativeness of delivery and assessment. Lecturers are passionate about becoming better teachers.
Students are also starting to see the change. Almost 3000 East African students have experienced TESCEA approaches in their teaching and 84% express satisfaction. They are seeing new possibilities emerge in their learning, are growing in confidence, and are responding to the new freedoms that lecturers are giving them.
Businesses and communities are becoming more engaged in university teaching, providing guest lecturers and creating placements and other project opportunities. Joint Advisory Groups are offering advice and helping to build networks. They are becoming champions of their local universities, and helping to understand the skills, behaviours and mindsets students need.
Universities are creating an environment to enable transformative learning, adapting their policies and processes, and supporting their staff to make the changes needed. University leaders, engaged in and champions of the process, have been critical to this.
TESCEA has begun to create an “East African Model”, a toolkit to translate what we have learnt, and the tools, materials and approaches we have developed, into a resource to support other lecturers, academic leaders and other universities to transform their teaching and learning. This is embedded within a community of practice of East African experts in transformative learning.