Student Engagement activities build Life Skills.
In Niger, higher education is modeled after the French system; the former French colony inherited this education system at all levels. However, there is one university in the country that is changing the landscape by challenging the established education model.
A Liberal Arts Education and its framework is a novelty in Niger; however, African Development University (A.D.U.) is attempting to change that. Roughly three years ago, A.D.U. opened its doors and started implementing a new type of education for Nigériens. The three-year program is a combination of various parts of traditional liberal arts majors needed in the industry.
The education programs are a shift in mindset. Certainly, the change in focus will require a shift in a younger portion of the population. However, this change is a game-changer for the country and the region. The academics are grounded in a business management and leadership foundational core. The university has chosen a liberal arts framework that is building 21st-century leaders in line with the UN SDG 4.0 and specifically SDG4.3 for higher education. The change in educational philosophy is both inside the classroom and outside. There is a strong emphasis on experiential learning and the values it instills in young leaders.
At A.D.U., the Office of Student and Community Affairs strives to engage students outside the classroom in dynamic ways through workshops, guest speakers, student organization activities, service to the community, and by building intercultural understanding. Students learn and practice essential life skills such as networking, teamwork, collaboration, critical thinking, creative problem solving, questioning, reasoning, and other skills not often present in their French-system counterparts in Niger. These skills and their applications are vital to the future of Niger and the region.
Niger, like so many other countries worldwide, has been hobbled with educational institutions’ closure in 2020. this year. As other schools struggled to regain their footing, A.D.U. re-opened in January 2021 with an innovative, blended learning, model of teaching that is a mixture of face-to-face classes and asynchronous classes.
Having done so, the university also re-engaged in student programming. It embraced vibrant and interactive campus experiences by adding guest speakers who addressed topics such as mentorship, student leadership, and change/transition in education as a result of COVID. In a proactive way, student engagement has increased on A.D.U.’s campus in the form of small events to celebrate International and Nigerien Women’s Day, Campus Iftar during Ramadan, Townhall meetings about campus policy changes, and educational movie screenings. A.D.U. community outreach has been done through the preparation and distribution of meals to a local hospital ward and other food donations through student clubs during Ramadan. The largest events were the civic engagement event of electing the new student government leaders and a fashion show to launch a clothing line by one of the students who has ventured into entrepreneurship.
Another essential engagement at A.D.U. is fostering and supporting the entrepreneurial ventures of our students. Start-up and small business ventures are innovative ways to create growth in Niger, and several students are striving in this area. A.D.U. students have created opportunities in apparel, cosmetics, food/consumer goods delivery, and taxi service. Through the process of developing businesses, students are merging their classroom knowledge with the world of work…even before they graduate.
As the world continues to be increasingly virtual in many ways, A.D.U. is challenging its students to stop for a moment and do a mindset shift…even after the pandemic ends. If they can make the transition to building skills in a virtual setting, they will be assets in the private and public sectors and as entrepreneurs. This is the way of the world now and, moving forward, we want to help them adapt by using the essential life (soft) skills they already have in order to develop a new way of life and work.
Shifting the mindset of higher education on the continent of Africa will not be easy, given the various legacy education systems from places like the UK, France, Belgium, Portugal, or Germany. However, institutions like African Development University are carving a path using blended and experiential learning to develop the next generation of critical thinkers for their nations or regions. There will be challenges and skeptics along the way; however, the students of A.D.U., its staff, faculty, and administrators strongly believe that they are going in the direction that will take Niger above the poverty line and strengthen the SAHEL region.
African Development University is a start-up that embraces the liberal arts educational structure in its academic and non-academic spheres. The goal is to introduce, practice, and integrate a student-centered experiential learning framework. The university strives to create a mindset shift in Nigerien students that can ultimately be replicated in start-up or established universities on the African continent.
Author, Karla Fraser is a senior administrator at African Development University. The university is a start-up that embraces the liberal arts educational framework in its academic and non-academic spheres. Her goal is to help build a student-centered experiential learning model that creates a mindset shift in Nigerien students, that can ultimately be replicated in start-up or established universities on the African continent.
This article is also published on Medium.com and LinkedIn.
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-- Karla A. Fraser, Blended Learning in Higher Education – Niger, West Africa Roseapple Global, LLC
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