I attended a volunteer event for an NGO recently where a symposium was done by the students on the Topic ‘Does the education of today prepare the Nigerian youth for the future’. This got me thinking and part of the solutions proffered there was a teaching methodology called Project Based Learning (PBL).
Now what is Project Based Learning?…………..
Project Based Learning (PBL) can be defined as an instructional methodology that encourages students to learn and apply the knowledge and skills learnt through engaging experience. According to Wikipedia ‘Project based learning is a student centered pedagogy that involves a dynamic classroom approach in which it is believed that student acquire a deeper knowledge through active exploration of real world challenges and problems, here students learn about a subject by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question’. Project based learning is a style of active learning which according to Bonwell and Elison (1991) ‘is a way of learning where students participate when they are doing something apart from passively listening. It is also a style of Inquiry based learning which is also a form of active learning that starts by posing questions, problems or scenarios.
Thomas Markham(2011) in his work on project Based Learning,Teachers and Librarian stated that ‘PBL integrates knowing and doing, students learn knowledge and elements of the core curriculum but also apply what they know to solve authentic problems.PBL students take advantage of digital tools to produce high quality, collaborative products. PBL refocuses education on the student not the curriculum- a shift mandated by the global world, which rewards intangible assets such as drive, passion, creativity, empathy and resiliency. These cannot be taught through textbooks but must be activated through experience’.
The basis of PBL lies in the authenticity or real life application of researches and that brings me back to my symposium experience, a student asked a question, she asked what is matter? to which we all chorused our residual knowledge on matter – anything that has weight and occupy space, she then proceeded to ask us of how we have been able to apply that knowledge to our daily lives – this unfortunately we had no answer. The Nigerian educational structure has been so theoretical for about a decade now that we are gradually losing the essence of education. Most Nigerian graduates have nothing to show for their education other than their certificates, little wonder companies and organizations have no trust in the competency of an average Nigerian graduate. We place so much emphasis on certificates and examination results that we forget to build the life skills such as creativity, analytical thinking, communication and interpersonal skills, leadership skills and critical thinking that are needed to grow and solve real life problems.
Part of the Sustainable developmental goals of the United Nations and even the United Kingdom Priority areas for Nigeria for almost a decade now has been on Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) all of which are encompassed in agriculture. But though we have lot of science students in these key areas both in the secondary schools and our tertiary institutions our level of innovation is low when compared with fast growing technological nations like Japan and China, why? In our educational system an average Agronomy student for example might be on farm just for three months out of his/her five years in school, while a food scientist might not even have an idea of the various technology and scientific discoveries in his/her field. Our curiosity has been dampened and our foresight blurred, but what’s the way out, one may ask? Project Based Learning.
Some characteristics of PBL include its Interdisciplinary, rigorous and student centeredness. PBL uses an interdisciplinary approach to solve real world problems because these problems cannot be solved using information or skills from a subject area. It is also Rigorous, PBL processes are rigorous, it is more complex and can be used to assess how students apply a variety of academic content in new context. It test the students grit and help build their resilience. PBL is student centered, here the role of the teacher shift from a content – deliverer to a facilitator and project manager, here students work independently and are encouraged to make their own decisions on how best to do their work and also demonstrate their understanding, thereby improving the student’s reasoning and help build a result- oriented mindset, and self confidence to work with little or no supervision which are needed in the real world. PBL has also been discovered to improve core skills such as reading effectiveness, numeracy, information retrieval, self management, oral presentations and global awareness.
Schools across the world especially in the United states have incorporated this learning structure into their curriculum, schools such as Muscatine High School, Muscatine Iowa through her G2 (Global Generation Exponential Learning), Manor New Technology High School, Manor Texas USA and organizations such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the European Union have been of help in providing funds for PBL schools.
Although Non- governmental Organizations such as The Junior Achievers of Nigeria (JAN) have been helpful in introducing this method of learning to the Nigerian students through their various boot camps and competitions but this is not sustainable in equipping the youths that will build the Nigeria of our dreams, more needs to be done. There should be a deliberate effort by all stakeholders in the educational sector in introducing this method of teaching into our educational curriculum starting from the primary schools to the tertiary institutions, and like Prof. Ndubuisi Ekekwe, Founder of the African Institute of Technology said during his speech at the May edition of The Platforms –‘The wealth of a nation is correlated to the level of education and knowledge accessible by its populace – that is the knowledge they can acquire and apply’