A UBC researcher has recently returned from Africa as a continuation of her eight-year project with colleagues at Aga Khan University that encourages teachers and students to think outside the box when it comes to traditional learning techniques.
Susan Crichton, Director of the Faculty of Education and Innovative Learning Centre, spent two weeks last month in Tanzania to observe the effects of the Toolkit for Challenging Contexts: Taking Making into Schools that she, along with colleague Dr. Lilian Vikiru, introduced in 2015 as part of a research grant from the Canada-Africa Research Exchange Grants program. The Maker tool kit is a resource in both English and Kiswahili that encourages design thinking and making —a method of problem-solving that allows teachers and students to approach problems through their human-centred design and exploration.
“The power of design thinking is that there are basically few problems that cannot be addressed by thinking well,” says Crichton. “It allows students and teachers to find the answers within themselves without having to look for outside support.”
According to the State of Education in Africa Report 2015, young people in Africa make up nearly 40 per cent of the working-age population, yet 60 per cent are unemployed. In the rural areas fewer than 40 per cent of the students continue on to secondary education. Crichton believes that design thinking is a proactive way to imagine other ways of discovering students’ potential.
“Children have to be given the opportunity to make their learning visible and actively make meaning for themselves in order to be successful,” says Crichton. “For students to engage in active learning, they need things to be active with. Teachers in challenging contexts are trying to embrace new approaches with limited or no resources or supports. Introducing making is a way of embracing local, low cost or no cost resources that are readily available and culturally relevant.”
Between 1990 and 2012, the number of children enrolled in primary schools more than doubled in African elementary schools as a result of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals that targeted the reduction of extreme poverty worldwide by 2015 by mandating free K-9 education.
“By giving teachers ways to create resources to help their students to become successful in their learning, you are encouraging students to discover their potential and life chances,” says Crichton.
While in Africa, Crichton worked with colleagues to update and expand the Tool Kit for Challenging Contexts, incorporating work developed by teachers who have been using the tool kit for several years. Crichton also helped to develop a “Maker Space” in Nachingweya Teachers College, a space where teachers can create learning resources for students by drawing on African traditions and resources.