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The effectiveness of any teaching-learning process depends to a large extend, on the method chosen. Teaching methods comprise different approaches and principles used by instructors/teachers to impart their students. The subject matter to be taught as well as the nature/characteristics of the students are the main determinants for consideration when choosing an appropriate and efficient teaching method.

In our educational system, many methods of instruction are used which are broadly classified into two, namely; teacher-centered and student-centered teaching methods. In the former, the teacher is at the center of the process. He/she is the authority and the only active party in the process of teaching and learning while his students passively listen and try to grasps the instructions given by him/her. The students only listen because they are considered as “empty vessels “while the teacher is assumed to “know everything”. In the student-centered approach however, both the teacher and the students do participate actively in the process of teaching and learning. This method believes in the potential of each person/student, allows for students’ active participation and offers room for creativity and effective learning for students as well as the teacher. The teacher primarily guides or facilitates the learning process.

Our experience of the Educational system in Nigeria (from primary to tertiary level) shows that it dwells largely on the teacher-centered approach for many reasons including inadequate/overstretched teaching/learning facilities or space, time, convenience and teachers’ ego. This approach has over the years retarded many brains, wasted potentials and failed to achieve even the basic objective of learning particularly problem-solving and that has contributed to the backwardness and underdevelopment in our society. Indeed, knowledge could be said to have been “imprisoned”.

Permit me to quickly share a little experience with some Medical students of Gombe State University, Gombe, Nigeria. It happened in (2018), when my students recorded about 50% failure in Practical Human Physiology course during their first preclinical examinations. The reason for the high failure rate was something I couldn’t fathom because I believed the students were well taught, even better than their predecessors and the examination was fair by every standard. So after the examination, some students that failed had to re-sit the course while others were withdrawn, sadly, as it were. As an individual and a product of the SELL formation programme which has a unique way of working with communities through Paulo Freire’s participatory learning approach, I was deeply worried, felt sorry for the students and had the compelling urge to do something differently to help the re-siting students and to find out why they failed after all the efforts put at the first instance. During the resit class, I interacted with them on an informal level and tried to understand why they failed but the interaction yielded no convincing answers. So, I decided to try a different approach. I sat down with them and let them realize that they were good enough to have passed that examination and I provoked in them, a positive mindset. Thereafter, we listed the practical schedules for the resit class and asked them to individually pick topics they like most from the list, prepare on those topics and come back in a week time to make their presentations. All of them reluctantly picked one topic or the other until all the listed topics were exhausted. They were so reluctant to pick the topics because their expectation was that I would give them sample examination questions so that they would narrow their focus to those areas and just manage to pass, but I blatantly refused to yield to their request even after many persuasions because I knew doing so wouldn’t help them.

In a nutshell, when we returned the following week to take the presentations, each student took turn to present while the others listened and asked questions. Clarification where needed, was given by the presenter, other students or the facilitator and each presenter was well affirmed. It was indeed interactive and participatory. To our amazement, each presenter did justice to his/her topics and everyone could clearly see the mastery of the subject matter (in previously perceived timid students) in most of the presentations. The students were surprised to realize that they could actually present well. Personally, I was amazed at the confidence level and knowledge depth displayed by the students and I saw a new perspective and gained more insights on the subject matter which were quite different from what I used to know and that has greatly improved my approach in the class room. Beyond the class room, we have since established a stronger bond with the students.

In the end, all those who re-sat the course, passed well and without struggle.

Student-centered participatory teaching-learning approach without doubt, has the best impact factor and is the sure way to achieving learning objectives and desired behavioural changes. Students must be allowed room for creativity to express their God-given potentials through the student-centered-problem-solving learning approach which is the global best practice today. In Nigeria and many African countries, the challenges militating against such goal-driven learning approach are not unsurmountable. This I believe and strongly advocate.

Paul Mela Leonard is from Gombe Community and a Volunteer Facilitator with the Sharing Education and Learning for Life Foundation Nigeria. SELL programme is modeled in the Training for Transformation methodology.


SELL programme is an Initiative of St. Patrick Missionary Society in West Africa district providing formative and transformative programme for young people and vulnerable groups to become agents of change in the Society.


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