Saturday, April 3, 2010

On Teaching without Textbooks

When I first arrived at MEF, I met my neighbor, Jenny, a mental health social worker from England. She is teaching the counseling methods course, and is the only other non-Zambian faculty in the program. I asked her about teaching materials and methods. She explained that Zambian students are expected to learn from the lecturer. They will copy down everything the instructor says in their composition books. She said she had prepared a set of handouts for her students when she was back home.

Textbooks are simply not available, and if they were, they would be beyond the resources of the students. The average laborer earns about $100 a month. I don't know what professionals earn, but our students mostly live in dormitories. No one has a car or even a bicycle. They walk everywhere, or take a minibus from the highway. No student has a personal computer or laptop. A few have cell phones. In this program, students receive a diploma, and the level is roughly equivalent to our community college AA degree. The accrediting body is the Technical Education, Vocational, and Entrepreneurial Training Authority within the Ministry of Education.

I was given my teaching assignments by Mrs. Kamiji Malichi, coordinator aof the social work program. She asked me to teach a one-week intensive module on community social work, and then to teach the full semester psychology (human behavior in the social environment) class this semester. She gave me a 3-page outline of the content to be covered in the HBSE course, and one page for the community module. The outlines came from a standardized curriculum manual issued by the government. I asked about resource materials for the instructor. She searched among a set of books in the social work office and came up with a psycholgy textbook from Great Britain, published in 2000. She also gave me a supply of chalk and a dry erase marker. I had told her that I brought several community practice texts with me.

Well, I thought, I'll visit the library and explore what's available there. And, of course, there is the Internet. The library is an appropriate size for the size of the studentbody, but most of the reference and resource books are long out of date. (Possibly discards from some university cleaning out their shelves, or the gift of a 1980's donor.) I found the American Corner, a mini-library set up by our government. It is designed mainly as a resource for students seeking information about the U.S., especially our educational institutions and opportunities. There I found a recent sociology textbook in their collection of materials.

The Internet has been my salvation for supplemental lecture preparation materials when I can access it, but that is the problem. I have a mobile Internet device that plugs into a port on my computer (and on which I load airtime several times a week). It is great for my gmail account, but the strength of the connection is inadequate to allow me to open many web sites, especially during the week. So my daughter Cathy has been finding resources for me and pasting them into emails. It works!

The students are attentive and respectful. In the beginning, they would rise when I entered the classroom and wouldn't leave until I left. Students who were tardy to class would knock timidly and ask permission to join the class late. We set up new class expectations, including that they were to let me know when they did not understand or when what I said didn't seem to fit with or make sense in their culture. It has taken awhile, but we now have more class participation and even debates over some issue, such as the wisdom of corporal punishment as a form of discipline. It is commonly used in the K-12 schools here, where class size may be 50 or more students, but even within my class the students disagreed about its effectiveness and impact. (I had been teaching about social learning.)

Teaching without textbooks has challenged my creativity. I have developed handouts, but even that is difficult in a campus with only one copy machine and limited supplies of paper and toner. The people are poor in Zambia, and so are the institutions. I have put the students into study groups and discussion circles and have slowed the pace of presenting material to accommodate thorough note-taking. All assignments, even research papers, are neatly hand-written with margins drawn by ruler. (I'm sure that at the university level students can access computers, at least in the capitol, and better libraries...I hope.)

Some of my ASU colleagues learned about the lack of books. They, along with a book publisher, have donated some recent textbooks. I am returning to the U. S. briefly for the birth of a grandchild next month. I'll pick up the books and bring them with me when I return to Zambia to add to the social work resource collection and the library. Many thanks, friends, they will be well used!

No comments:

Post a Comment