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2 Why Learner-centred Pedagogy in Sub-Saharan Africa? Introduction The rationale advanced in this chapter for contemporary interest in learnercentred education is very different from the one often advanced by proponents of the pedagogy, mainly that learner-centred pedagogy improves the ‘quality’ of teaching and learning. The proponents rarely unpack the concept of ‘quality teaching and learning’ – despite the fact that ‘quality’ is a contentious concept (see Barrett et al. 2006) – but for us to appreciate it better, they give us occasional glimpses of what they understand by quality in this context. Tabulawa (2003) and Vavrus (2009) surmise that contemporary interest in pedagogical reform in sub-Saharan Africa is largely based on economic and political rationales – the need to improve the sub-region’s human capital base as a way of stimulating economic growth and the West’s desire to globalise a liberal democratic ethos. In this context, Vavrus (2009:304) concludes that ‘quality’ ‘means constructivist approaches to teaching that privilege active, inquiry-based learning and studentcentred teaching’. In other words, although the efficacy of the pedagogy is often couched in cognitive/educational terms, in essence, its perceived efficacy lies in its political and economic nature. On the basis of this understanding of quality teaching and learning teachers are told that their students’ performance will improve if they adopt this form of teaching. However, this often unstated rationale for the constructivist learner-centred pedagogy might in fact be contributing to the failure of pedagogical reform in sub-Saharan Africa. Political/economic rationales for the pedagogy can only promote a technical understanding of teaching. Furthermore, the rationales Teaching and Learning in Context: Why Pedagogical Reforms Fail in Sub-Saharan Africa 18 have very little relationship with student performance as understood by teachers in sub-Saharan Africa (where ‘quality’ is understood predominantly in terms of student performance in tests and examinations). Pedagogical innovations whose utility in this regard is not obvious to teachers and students are unlikely to be embraced. The perceived utility of an innovation has implications for how it is received in its host environment. Teachers and students in the subSaharan African context are mostly likely to evaluate the utility value of a pedagogical innovation in terms of whether it is likely to enhance students’ performance in tests and examinations, not in terms of whether it is likely to produce students with the character traits preferred for contemporary political life and the economy. Would teachers and students be ready to adopt and implement a pedagogy that has no apparent and immediate utility value to them? In the context of Africa, the answer is a clear ‘No’. Thus, the very rationale for the learner-centred pedagogy might be its Achilles’ heel. If this argument is admissible, then the pedagogy must be treated as problematic, instead of assuming, as the technicist approach does, that it is only technical issues to do with the innovation delivery system that matter. The economic/political rationale for the constructivist, learner-centred pedagogy cannot be appreciated without first recognizing the role of international aid agencies in its propagation. The fact that these agencies’ interest in the pedagogy intensified after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is in itself significant. The apparent ‘lack’ of interest in the pedagogy before 1989 may be attributed to the very central hypothesis of the modernization theory of development which became enshrined in policies of aid agencies soon after the latter were created. The hypothesis, coupled with human capital theory, viewed education in technicist terms. However, the ascendancy of neoliberalism as a development paradigm in the 1980s and 1990s elevated political democratization as a prerequisite for economic development. Education, then, assumed a central role in the democratization project. Given its democratic tendencies, learner-centred pedagogy was a natural choice for the development of democratic social relations in the schools of aid-receiving countries, the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa. International aid agencies, now operating in a unipolar, geopolitical environment, could afford to be explicit about their preference for the pedagogy. Therefore, besides being an import, learner-centred pedagogy is a worldview intended to develop a preferred kind of society and people. In short, the pedagogy in sub-Saharan Africa is significant less for its educational/cognitive value than for its political and economic utility. However, the latter is of little interest to teachers and students. 19 Why Learner-centred Pedagogy now? Answering this question is a prerequisite for an understanding of the pervasiveness of the learner-centred...


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