|Teach Your Best - A Handbook for University Lecturers (DES, 387 p.)|
Throughout Africa, institutions of higher learning are in a state of crisis. Universities are bursting at the seams due to the ever increasing student numbers. They are starved of resources and their libraries are experiencing an acute book famine. These woes are not only threatening to lower academic standards but the very existence of the universities themselves.
In the face of such serious problems, it is becoming more and more evident that the quality of staff is a crucial element in ensuring universities retain their traditional mission of discovering, transmitting and preserving knowledge. Sadly, staff development has received little attention, being measured by the mere advancement up the academic ladder. Currently, only a handful of lecturers have been professionally trained in the art of teaching. The assumption has all along been that the possession of a PhD degree was all that an aspiring lecturer needed in order to be able to teach in a university. The rest one imbibed through osmosis.
That is not the case today. All over the world, it is now recognized that excellence in teaching must be nurtured. To that end, this Handbook hopes to improve university teaching and learning in Africa. It deliberately emphasizes research and teaching, which the authors consider to be the twin pillars upon which excellence in higher education rests.
The German Foundation for International Development (DSE) became interested in staff development for a number of reasons. Firstly, it realized that university education had fallen far short of expectations. For example, it was accused of having failed to apply research to the problems of national development. Secondly, universities were producing graduates for non-existent jobs, while failing to meet the changing manpower requirements in key areas of national development, such as agriculture, health, engineering and economics. Indeed, there was a mismatch between university training and manpower requirements.
Thirdly, as DSE put it, 'The economic recession in most African countries on the one hand, and the rising number of students, resulting in the need for extra finances, on the other hand, has had a marked effect on the quality of education offered by the universities. This situation has been aggravated by the scarcity, obsolescence or neglected condition of technical equipment in many tertiary institutions. In addition, textbooks, references, teaching aids, laboratory equipment, scientific literature and periodicals are all in short supply.
Since universities have little control over basic economic and political conditions, their task is to take up the challenge for providing excellent education in the prevailing situations and use their most valuable resource, their staff, to plan and execute structural reforms. It, therefore, follows that the rather complex system of generating and transmitting knowledge requires the university to have a sound understanding and a technical mastery of their staff's teaching, research and consultancy functions. This is the essence of staff development.'
The authors constitute a task force that is committed to ensuring the continuous training of their peers. They are also acutely aware of the low status given to effective teaching in universities. And yet, students and parents expect good quality university education particularly in view of the recently introduced cost-sharing policy.
This Handbook has commendable characteristics. Its style is friendly and warm. It is well illustrated, well-spaced and with adequate summaries. University lecturers, particularly those at the beginning of their career, will appreciate the suggestions proposed as to how to improve their teaching. In particular, the practical sections should spur them on to generate their own strategies.
Finally, the handbook is the product of a joint effort between DSE and Eastern and Southern African universities. This initiative is highly commendable and I hope marks the beginning of many more similar ventures. Such co-operation will enhance African capability in the task of revamping university education on the continent.
Nairobi, November 1993
Francis J. Gichaga
University of Nairobi