Perhaps regrettably, all of you students in the BSc Tourism know me very well for the methods and statistics courses that I taught you during the last few years. In order to show that you are not the only victim of this harassment, and that in fact there are people who voluntarily participate in such courses, I want to tell you a little bit about my teaching experiences this winter in Kampala, Uganda.
To cut a long story short, the Department of Extension and Innovation Studies, University of Kampala’s developed a new regional PhD program in Agricultural and Rural Innovation (ARI). Wageningen University is an international partner in this PhD program, and contributed (among other things) to the designing of courses in Research Methodology and in Qualitative and Quantitative Analyses. In addition to designing these courses, the Research Methodology Group (RME) was also invited to demonstrate to the local teachers how the courses were best taught. This capacity building is what I did for research methodology in February-March of 2014. Next June-July I will return to Uganda to teach statistics.
To be sure, this was my first trip to Africa. I did prepare of course, not only 80 hours’ worth of powerpoints, but also taking the necessary shots and a couple of strips of malarone. My flight departed in the morning from Brussels Airport, and took some 14 hours until it landed in Entebbe, Kampala (Uganda). At that point my European life was finished and Africa took over. One of the things typical for Europe for instance, is that having a watch actually makes sense because events take place at scheduled hours. Not so in Africa, where I was quickly explained that there is a thing called African time. Things in the end, always happen – but you need to have an elastic conception of time. Another interesting finding was that 80 hours of powerpoints are not worth very much in an environment where electricity (and wifi) fail at the most unexpected times. But now let’s stop listing inconveniences before it starts to look like complaining, which I’m not.
The students, as said at PhD level, were most wonderful. They came from Uganda, of course, but also Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Kenya. Their aged ranged from the early thirties to the late sixties. They had families and full-time jobs that they left behind in order to study among other topics, research methodology. The major difference between teaching PhD students and teaching freshmen or secondary year students (as in NHTV) is that PhD students have a very clear conception about the application of the knowledge they consume. This saves the teacher from the difficult task of making students interested in the topics of the course, a job especially hard when it comes to dry, fact-based exchange of knowledge about experiments, probability theory, and what not. And in addition, most if not all of these African students pay for the program out of their own income, which is the best incentive to keep people motivated and alert.
To me the most gratifying of teaching the 10 lectures of 6-8 hours in temperatures of around 28 C was the overwhelming positive response I got from the students. They would come to me after hours with all kinds of interesting questions related to their own, highly relevant research projects. I learned a lot about the practicalities of urban chicken farming, water wells, the tomato and the cassava value chains, separated waste collection, and so on, and heard the most fantastic stories about living in East-Africa. Al that, together with many hours of fun spent with my colleagues from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, made this a most memorable event that I’m very happy to repeat in June of this year.