Competency-Based Education, Lifelong Learning and Adult Students: Insights from International Partnerships between East Africa, Southern Africa and USA-Based Institutions of Higher Education

By Tolliver, Derise E.; Martin, Akilah et al. | Journal of Pan African Studies, September 2018 | Go to article overview

Competency-Based Education, Lifelong Learning and Adult Students: Insights from International Partnerships between East Africa, Southern Africa and USA-Based Institutions of Higher Education


Tolliver, Derise E., Martin, Akilah, Salome, Nyambura, Journal of Pan African Studies


Introduction

Most African education systems bear the impact of colonialism, of which most of the pedagogy is either outdated and/or not relevant to needs in the context of contemporary Africa. This situation has especially been the case for adult learners who have been marginalized, historically disempowered and denied access to opportunities for higher education. While these learners often have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom that they have garnered through life and work experiences, conventional educational approaches are generally unable to accommodate the flexibility that these students need in order to pursue studies. Similarly, learning that takes place outside of the formal classroom may not be valued or may be dismissed as substandard, not "real" and/or not sufficiently intellectual for modern times. Change needs to occur, especially in light of criticism that many conventional institutions of higher learning are producing graduates who are ill-equipped to function competently in the labor market or in their communities.

Competency-based education is being touted by some as a possible transformative pedagogy that can reinvigorate higher learning with relevance, purpose and meaning for its constituencies. South Africa and Kenya are among a number of African nations that have universities and colleges working with international partners to develop their own version of competency-based programs for adult learners. An examination of these collaborations may be useful to others as they explore approaches to facilitate learning among adult students.

Adult Learners and Adult Education

... most of Africa's problems are adult problems that need adult solutions (Avoseh, 2002, p.4)

We begin with definitions for "adult learners" and "adult education" in order to provide the context for discussion of other key concepts in this paper. Adult learners represent a diverse group of students. On the one hand, they are often defined by age, sometimes referred to as mature or non-traditional, being older than the more conventional 18-22 year old undergraduate student in higher education environments in the West. However, adult learners might also be identified based on other characterizations of "adulthood," such as self-concept, behaviors or biology (e.g. post-puberty). Traditional African practice, on the other hand, has considered adulthood to be a stage of life, marked by having successfully completed rites of passage or initiation into the adult community.

Similarly, adult education, has various definitions. According to Darkenwald and Merriam (1982):

"adult education is concerned not with preparing people for life, but
rather with helping people to live more successfully. Thus if there is
to be an overarching function of the adult education enterprise, it is
to assist adults to increase competence, or negotiate transitions, in
their social roles (worker, parent, retiree etc.), to help them gain
greater fulfilment in their personal lives, and to assist them in
solving personal and community problems" (p. 9).

We believe that adult education must be purposeful, meaningful and relevant to learners in their lives, supporting liberation from the oppression of ignorance and dependency. It should foster liberating ideas and skills, while promoting personal and societal transformation.

The purpose of adult education, then, within the context of contemporary African realities, is to support "sustainable development... where cultures and ways of life are balanced with global and international pressures and demands" (Owuor, 2007, p. 21). Avoseh (2002) concurs with this expectation of adult education, given the sociopolitical and economic realities of the Continent. He calls for an integration of modernization with the strengths of traditional African values to engage adult learners to seek the solutions to Africa's problems. By reclaiming positive cultural identity, integrity, confidence, and empowerment, it is believed that adult learners can help recognize and decolonize the oppression of "western dominated school curricula" (Ouwor, 2007, p. …

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