It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and anxious about the torrential downpour of, “how to’’, “when to”, “10 things you must do”, “five things you should do.” […and the lists go on and on]
Whilst some of these lists are good, there is a limit to them. This includes the fact that they’re largely compiled by Westerners. Most contain a predominantly Western perspective built on tried and true concrete concepts about education.
These, however, are also haunted by a variety of legislating, and the enforcement of ever-changing approaches to education. (Some of which is thrown about by the ‘’revolutionary’’ whims and fads of a minority among the tenured academia, and which are, sometimes, to quickly approved by the approval ratings hungry, bureaucratic class.)
For those parenthesized reasons, it’s important to hear beyond the Westernized realm from time to time.
In his 2012 book ‘Teaching That Guarantees Learning’, Nigerian teacher, Dr. Obed Onwuegbu, writes:
‘Teachers are employed for three reasons. To set the goal, select and arrange factors and guide the learner to learn. The student can learn without the teacher if proper arrangement is in place.’[i]
For Onwuegbu, teaching is about the setting up of a learning environment. The teacher takes into account the form and content of the material, and then facilitates the way forward. This involves identifying primary “factors.” Then by enabling these primary factors, such as the learning environment and learning tools, an interest in learning is stimulated. Each factor or “method of delivery” plays a key role in empowering the student’s education.
Here Onwuegbu attempts an explanation:
‘Let me illustrate. Onwuegbu is my last name. Invariably Americans ask me to teach them how to pronounce it. Left on their own they say On-wu-eg-bu. Then they struggle but almost never succeed to say Onwu- egbu, because there are six instead of eight letters and two syllables instead of four in the name. That “struggle” from pronouncing four syllables On-wu-eg-bu to two syllables Onwu-egbu is what I refer to as process and only the learner can experience it.[ii]
By focusing on facilitating the primary factors that empower learning and moving to a facilitators position in the learning process, the teacher removes any chance of becoming an obstacle to the student’s learning experience. The responsibility to learn what is taught is then placed in the right order, first, on the learner and secondly, on the teacher.
Onwuegbu’s approach has weight.
‘The teacher arranges the factors before the learners walk into the classroom. Imbedded in the arrangement is the objective of the lesson. The teacher introduces the learner to the goal and the arrangement, i.e. how to achieve the goal before the learner interacts with the factors. At this stage, the student is present. He has been introduced to both the goal and the means of achieving it. The facilitator waits and watches to help. He reinforces or corrects. That is teaching. The result is learning.’[iii]
Instead of rushing towards progress at the expense of process, Onwuegbu places progress and process on the same line. Process is then placed before progress, whilst progress still rightly maintains a position of importance. In short, Onwu-egbu, if I’m reading him correctly, aims to bring teachers back to a place where “the means” are put back before “the end.”
This is akin to merchandising. The seller sets up a display. In retail jargon it’s what’s called a “silent” salesman. From there the customer learns about the product both with and without the sales staff. This invokes a learning experience whereby the customer gets an hands-on, up close and personal encounter with the product in the context ascribed to it by its producer. The display is designed to create interest and interaction.
According to Onwu-egbu,
‘Identifying the factor per se is not enough. For example, it is not merely choosing a film or going to the library, but it is choosing the right film and books, and knowing what, how and when to use them. It is not going to the library alone, but knowing what section, books, topics, pages, questions and answers or even other materials the learners may need to facilitate learning.[iv]’
In a similar way to a merchandiser, the teacher functions as a manager of the process and progress of a students learning. By dressing up the educational environment with exciting and interesting material the teacher has effectively merchandised the learning environment. Thus creating “silent educators” by which the student can meaningfully interact.
‘Whatever arrangement the teachers make must be finished before the students enter to interact with the factors. One arrangement takes about eighty to eighty-five percent of the teacher’s teaching time. The remaining fifteen to twenty percent of teaching time is used to reinforce and guide the students while they interact with the factors‘ [v]
What Onwuegbu isn’t advocating is the abdication of teacher responsibility or abolition of teachers.
What he is advocating is liberation from a sort of curriculum purgatory; a gulag. Where constrained creativity incites boredom; where meaning and purpose is easily lost. A place where zero incentive is given and indifference is propagated en masse. “Silent educators” still require preparation; ground work, creativity, clear communication and reviews. I.e.: direction, vision and management. The teacher is freed to teach. Not robotically, but dynamically. Exercising freedom in limitation, unchained from an empty and static routine.
‘‘I know that teachers use films when they teach in the U.S.A. That is a luxury I did not have throughout my years as a student or teacher in Nigeria. I was lucky if I had a picture. My granddaughter in fifth grade complained about a film her class watched. It seemed the film babysat the class for the teacher […] For this arrangement to succeed, the lesson should last for more than the usual fifty minutes.[Then] the teacher introduces the lesson and plans for the students’ interaction […] A different arrangement should be made for every lesson. This is one of the reasons the current number of lessons per day must give way to a new time arrangement. There must be less number of lessons, and more time for every lesson. Time and tests will no longer control classroom activities.’ [vi]
I’m in agreement with Onwuegbu’s main theme about process and progress. I’m on board with his idea of teaching being about ‘facilitating the factors’. As for the other points he makes, I need a little longer to really think about them. For example what are the consequences of not having tests? Of restructuring grade tiers, and how do we avoid real-time restrictions if we’re to extend lesson times?
Overall, his research and experience gives wider credibility to the concept that the world is our classroom:
Since: ‘teaching did not start in schools.’
His conclusions are reassuring. Facilitating eliminates the temptation to see teachers and learning tools as baby sitters. The teacher still has to teach. As a facilitator the teacher or parent/s cannot escape his or her own leadership role in the learning process or the progress of the learner.
Teachers are an essential part of the interwoven fabric of factors. Onwuegbu’s idea that the function of a teacher, is that of a facilitator, has the potential to reform Western societies notion of what a teacher is and what a teacher does.
‘If there is one word, which describes learning, it is process. Hence, to teach is to enhance and facilitate that process. The teacher is the facilitator. The function of education is to do everything to promote the process.’[vii]
[i] Onwuegbu, O.I. 2012, Teaching that Guarantees Learning (Loc. 48-49) Kindle Ed.Loc. 825-827
[ii] Ibid, Loc. 775-782
[iii] Ibid, Loc.823-824
[iv] Ibid, Loc. 114-117
[v] Ibid, Loc. 201-204
[vi] Ibid, Loc. 251-252
[vii] Ibid, Loc. 48-49