Monday, April 13, 2009

Teaching in Tanzania

We want to begin by wishing all of you a happy Easter. Today is a holiday here and thus we have a one week break from teaching (that started last Tuesday, so classes begin again tomorrow).

This time we want to share some reflections on our teaching here in Tanzania. Although the teaching itself does not differ greatly from our work in Nigeria, the context is certainly different, and that impacts our relationship with students, and our methods as well. 

Chapel on Malimbe campus

Plaque commemorating founding of SAUT as a university in 1999 (before that it was Nyegezi Social Institute)

To begin, we realize that a big difference between our work here in Tanzania and in Nigeria is the factor of language. As in Nigeria, English is the medium of instruction, but outside of class, Swahili, the national language, is used almost exclusively by both faculty and students. If competence in English left much to be desired for Nigerian students, we find that Tanzanian students, for the most part, have at least a passive acquaintance with the language. Many students in both countries find it difficult to write well in English, largely because they do not read enough good books and articles. The library, here, as in Jos, is not adequate even for undergraduate, much less graduate students. Yet SAUT is commited to building a decent library, certainly by African standards. The new library building indicates that.

Entrance to library

New library building

No bags are allowed into the library, but books disappear anyway

Students studying in the library

Our students at SAUT are also more shy than in Nigeria. They are not so ready to offer answers when a question is raised. Perhaps the context has its impact, because Wendy's class in introductory philosophy is large: 122 students in all. But they do have a chance to talk when the Friday tutorial is given. A course typically meets three hours per week. While two hours are devoted to lectures, the third hour involves ‘tutorials.’ Students are divided into small groups for discussion. But we have discovered that such group discussions spill over outside the classroom. The campus is dotted with groups of students comparing notes, explaining the lecture materials to each other. To judge by these groups, students here seem more committed to their studies than those in Nigeria.

Wendy talking to students in a discussion group

One of about ten discussion groups in her class
Discussion groups can be found all over the campus

Adrian's graduate course in the “History of Political Ideas” has fourteen MA students, a fairly typical size for a class at that level. Again he uses the two-hour period to lecture; in the tutorial hour students read and discuss portions of texts of major political philosophers. He has discovered that his students are not used to this kind of intensive reading. They have never been exposed to reading either Plato or Aristotle, or any other major authors introduced; and they have little or no background in philosophy to prepare them for the challenge. Students who have graduated from SAUT have had as least two required philosophy courses: the introductory course that Wendy is now teaching and a course in logic. But students who graduated from other Tanzanian universities were not required to take any philosophy courses. At SAUT, the philosophy program will soon be expanded; the department is proposing a new BA in Philosophy for students in education which will have many more courses in philosophy. 

Adrian teaching his class

Wth about 6000 students, SAUT is already the largest private university in Tanzania and the second-largest overall. It appears that education was not a priority in Tanzania for the first years after independence, but that has changed in recent years. Universities are springing up out of the ground, as it were, and are scrambling to find enough lecturers. This is the reason why SAUT invited us. Each of us is teaching one course this semester, which is not unusual here, especially for foreigners. This leaves us time to learn a bit of Swahili and to finish some research projects.

As you can see in the photos below, the buildings are springing out of the ground to accommodate the new students expected each year. All these buildings, including the library, are very close to our house. This is the new campus of SAUT. 

The new administration building

 The new classroom building, with ten very large classrooms

One of the women's hostels, with Lake Victoria in the background; this hostel is across the road from our house

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