Is okay, good enough?
Written by Mette Bjergbæk Klausen
We are trying out new approaches to teaching, focusing on the learner and what the learner needs to be able to do, rather than what the teacher wants to teach. We want to promote transformation rather than just pass on knowledge. But any change is difficult.
The car is slowly pushing through the hectic Freetown traffic. Mr. Jalloh is our capable captain through this myriad of cars, motorbikes, ke-kes (auto rickshaws or tuk-tuks), street vendors, school children and other commuters on their way home after a long day. This is the dreaded East End, a place known for its go-slows (tailbacks) and traffic jams. Altogether, traffic seems to be more paused than moving on the narrow streets, which are the main thoroughfare for all the heavy traffic between the busy container harbour and the rest of the country.
Usually, there would be no excuse good enough for me to venter into this chaos, and especially not to expose my colleague, Brian, to this. Even Mr. Jalloh, who - after a long career as head driver for the diocese is used to Freetown traffic - looked somewhat doubtful about the idea of crossing East End during rush hours. However, there was no way around this time. At the far eastern end of this part of town, on a dirt road unknown even to Mr. Jalloh (and that is saying something!), a SEAN group is meeting this evening.
The group leader, David, is one of the people, trained during the last workshop for group leaders, which I was fortunate enough to host before Christmas. We have been keeping contact via WhatsApp (a messenger app commonly used in Africa), so I know that David and his group are almost halfway through the course now. I’m very interested in seeing a session in progress and talk to the participants about their impressions of the course. I am so keen on this that I am ready to risk being caught in East End for a couple of hours. Brian is joining me, because he is an expert in learning methods, and I need his precious insight here, as we are working on a new approach to training in general.
All five group participants show up. They are all eager to share stories of the great changes, they have experienced in their lives during this course. It is generally difficult to get people here to share the truth, because they are too polite to do so. But in this case, the testimonies speak for themselves. This course has given people a sacred place amid their busy schedule, where they are able to reflect on their faith, their life and how to combine the two. And as a result, they have all experienced positive changes in their lives. They love the simple vocabulary used to explain difficult things and the illustrations that go with the words.
The session begins, and we can quickly conclude that the group is not exactly using the materials the way, it was intended. The rhythm was supposed to be Self Studies, Group Studies, Practical Application, with the group leader being the facilitator who, aided by a guidebook, leads the group through its own reflections. This group has taken a different approach, combining Self Studies and Group Studies, disregarding the group leader’s manual and making the group leader more of a teacher, but in this case an excellent teacher, who involves his students a lot. They have sort of taken half of the step into the new approach.
This gave us a lot to think about on our way back in the car later that evening. Clearly the participants are benefiting from the course. Clearly things are happening in their lives, and they have grown in their faith. Clearly David is a very skilled and dedicated teacher, who cares deeply for his members and does everything in his power to ensure that they are actively participating and understand the message.
Still, the methodology of the course is not being used, and this methodology was developed, tested and finetuned by skillful people, and is thus proven highly efficient. This leaves us with a big question: Should we accept that the course is used differently, as it creates such positive results? Or should we rather try to push this and future groups back to the intended form , as this would produce even more results?
I had a long and fruitful dialogue with David, the group leader, a few days later. He would really like to make fully use of the new method but found it difficult. It goes completely against the common understanding of what training means, both for him and his participants.
If we want the new method to be used, something needs to be changed, be it the training of group leaders, the group leader’s manual, or the follow up on groups in session, probably all. We also need to consider that the intended form is so different, that it might be very difficult for group leaders as well as their participants to fully accept it. Some impact is better than no impact, as we risk people will reject the course all together if it is too alien to grasp. Big thoughts in a small car! This is definitely something, that we need to work much more on in the time to come. We need to continue trying and probably make errors but learn from it and hopefully do better next time. Hopefully, people will continue being patient with us in the meantime.
[SEAN International is an organisation, devoted to bringing training out to people in the congregations, and reach them at the level they are at, right from the lowest levels of literacy up to bachelor’s level. This is done though well-crafted workbooks for participants and group leader manuals, instructing group leaders how to guide participants through their own reflections. Each session comprises of Self Study, Group Study and Practical Application of what is learnt, so it becomes a lived experience, not just theory.]