(Ephrem Tekle Yacob – Heidelberg University)
In Ethiopia, the gap between the learner and the teacher is so wide that both entities do usually not dare to cross it. It looks like the relation between the two is characterised by their roles as giver and receiver – the learner as a receiver and the teacher as a giver. Though stakeholders in education preach about active learning, multidimensional communication during instruction and methods centred on students, the achievement is still far from the desired goal. While this might appear to be rather a generalization, it is important to note that the gap is visible enough to conclude that the approaches are suffering from defect practices. Although the various actors in the educational system usually use the words of democratic teaching approaches, they rarely use them as scholars of the area suggested.
The approaches are highly democratic in the sense that all actors play significant roles. Let us take active learning as an example. Scholars define it as a process in which the learners assume a dynamic, energetic, and involved role in their learning process. Similarly, in a democratic nation people engage dynamically and energetically. Democratic values are highly nurtured in schools. The teachers also appreciate the values as they acknowledge the contribution of such involvement in the making of the nation. A child who is brought up in this system continues to incorporate the values of active involvement in all aspects of his or her life. This is reflected later when the children assume responsibility after schooling. This is what we lack back at home.
Participatory Classroom: My Experience in Germany
Coming to Heidelberg, I had the privilege to attend lectures of different professors in the department for education at Heidelberg University. I have been particularly interested in the professors’ communication with students. The interactions and discussions in the classrooms can be described as dynamic and lively. Everyone is prepared to participate and contribute. At the end, lecturers know how to guide their students to achieve the lesson’s intended objective. Furthermore, they manage to inspire their students to do further reading and research. The majority of my fellow students leave the classroom eager to engage further with the topics that have been discussed.
Ever since I experienced this, I have been contemplating why this is the case. The professors’ skills, the overall environment, the readiness of the students and many more factors may contribute to this. My continuous thinking, however, also led to another question: Does organising and practising participatory classrooms positively contribute to the democratisation of the nation? And, vice versa: Is it possible to avoid dictatorship by making lectures and classroom interactions livelier?
I am asking this question because I believe that in a democratic state the prevailing way of life is crafted with democratic perspectives. In a democratic nation like Germany people have the right to freely express their different questions and ideas. This freedom helps the society as a whole to debate and discuss various issues that, I believe, support the nation to develop successfully in many aspects. You also experience this freedom in schools where students raise multidimensional issues that are helping them to expand their horizon of knowledge and wisdom. I believe that the democratisation of the nation mirrors the democratisation of schools. In authoritarian states on the other hand undemocratic perspectives often prevail. Back home, democracy is yet to mature. The free expression of ideas is very restricted and thus people need to ask themselves what will happen to them if they raise a certain issue. These restrictions lead to a lack of free debates and discussions which is reflected in the school system. The schools fail to fight the status quo and thus their contribution to the democratisation of the nation is very limited. Moreover, I believe that the characteristics of either democratic or undemocratic nature of the schools are reflected in the different institutions of a nation. That is the case because the people who assume responsibility in the institutions are the product of the schools.
Recommendations for Ethiopia: Teachers should be Democratised
We cannot facilitate active learning, multidimensional communication during instruction and student-centred methods without being democrats and supporting democratic values and attitudes. Let us democratise our teachers and help them create a democratic nation by implementing democracy in the classroom and hence foster future democratic generations. I would argue that this can be, among other things, achieved by redesigning the educational system based on the constructivism view underlining the fact that “learning is an active, constructive process. The learner is an information constructor. People actively construct or create their own subjective representations of objective reality. New information is linked to prior knowledge, thus mental representations are subjective.” (See Constructivism – Learning Theories)
The redesigned education system needs to provide space for all stakeholders and enable them to play their role successfully. Particularly the roles of the students need to be reconsidered: We need to eradicate the old thought of perceiving the student as a mere receiver. We need to encourage the students to engage in their own learning by helping them to become involved in the process. In this regard, the aforementioned approaches play significant roles. In order to regularly apply them in practice, we need to democratise our teachers first. Thus, as the learning of the student is highly affected by the role of their teachers, Ethiopia needs to take a lesson from the nations who make a difference in this regard such as Germany. Education, in my view, plays the central role of the democratisation of a nation.
*Originally published on the Hypotheses