Pix: Vicky Colbert receiving the award
Globally acknowledged innovator in the field of education, Dr Vicky Colbert, was at the American University of Nigeria on May 9 and continued her push for a teaching-learning paradigm shift beyond basic education. Colbert, in her 7th Commencement speech, described education as the core task of development and that “…without quality basic education no social, economic, peace, or development could ever be achieved.”
She noted that research by the Center for Universal Education at Brookings Institution, the World Bank, and similar academic and development institutes has found that quality basic education improves people’s lives, provides individuals with more economic opportunities, empowers them to make informed decisions that impact their families’ wellbeing, equips them with skills to live secure and healthy lives, generates conditions for progress in health and gender equity, and plays a key role in helping to tackle some other of the world’s most pressing challenges such as climate change, food security, and peace building.
Colbert said there is need to change educational systems across the globe.
“More of the same is not enough. Expanding current educational systems will not make a difference.” She argued that although technology triggers change, a new pedagogy is indispensable for effective learning. “Technologies may change but innovations in pedagogy bring lasting benefits.”
Escuela Nueva, founded by Ms. Colbert, is a system in which the school adapts to the child, not the other way around. It has enabled five million learners in 16 countries across the world to access quality basic education. For this life-changing work, Ms. Colbert was conferred with an honorary doctorate by the American University of Nigeria.
Dr Colbert told how the Escuela Nueva team had to tailor the program to suit internally displaced children in Colombia through Learning Circles. She said that Learning Circles represented a “transition from out of school to regular schooling.” They were learning spaces where groups of around 15 students worked together with the aid of a tutor from the community, who facilitated learning and provided personalized attention until they were ready to transition into the formal, official school.
Primary education is much on the minds of many at AUN, which is currently striving in cooperation with its local community to feed and educate hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Boko Haram to the north. Yola is currently home to 400,000 such ‘displaced persons’, many of them children–perhaps as many as 200,000. Many of these refugee children will stay in the Yola area, badly straining already stretched resources. They have been out of school during this crisis.
The American University of Nigeria has been actively engaged in providing for many of these refugees, and as a “development university” is much concerned with the challenge of finding cost-effective and proven ways of helping to provide primary and secondary education in the region. Ms. Colbert’s comments were welcome advice to the university.
“The personalized and extra socio affective support [provided by the Escuela Nueva Learning Circles] restores and strengthens children´s self-esteem, develops social and life skills as well as a joyful learning experience.”
Though the Circles operated off-site from mainstream formal schools, she explained, they were officially linked through shared academic calendars, grading systems, and extracurricular activities. Displaced children are officially enrolled in school, but study in learning circles that can be set up in any communal space. The applicability of this model to the current Nigerian crisis seems clear.