Iyinoluwa Aboyeji: We need to change the way we teach (Y! Frontpage)

by Iyinoluwa Aboyeji


The world often tends to follow a power law distribution or what is more popularly called the 80-20 rule or the Pareto principle.

This phenomenon of power law distribution has proven itself in the growth of Internet users, investment returns and even corporate sale. However, one area where it will be interesting to watch this distribution happen is in higher education and specifically with respect to teaching faculty.

I personally believe in the next 10 years, 90% of the world’s Universities will be taught by the top 10% of teachers.

Here is why?

In Nigeria for instance, 40% of lecturers are not qualified to teach at the University level. Yet, Nigeria’s Universities still needs to hire 20,000 teachers this year to keep up with current enrollment- which will rise to 800,000  per year in the next decade. It especially needs to hire science, math and technology teachers which as any school proprietor will know are very hard to find in Nigeria.

The truth is these 20,000 teachers don’t exist. The many that are currently in the system are not good. As a result the very few that are very good are in very high demand and so they are pricey. And this problem of guaranteeing instructional quality in higher education in a world where there are more students than qualified teachers isn’t just a Nigerian problem. It is a global problem. It impacts Universities in other developing countries (who by the way constitute 75% of global University enrolment). It impacts for profit Universities and Community colleges in the United States – fastest growing enrolment demographic in North America.

In fact I will make the bold claim that a huge chunk of inequality in the world can be traced to the fact that the rich get great teachers and the poor get the short end of the stick.

Even Bill Gates said “one of the real challenges in education is finding ways to give more people access to brilliant teachers who inspire and excite with their ability to bring material to life.”

Online courses present a unique opportunity to give everyone access to the best teachers in the world. The best teachers can literally be everywhere they are needed at once and as many times as possible. Massively Open Online Courses like Coursera and Udacity have already started this work but there is a lot more to be done.

Like Clayton Christensen, I also think Universities will survive by shrinking the size of their faculty and specializing – especially with respect to teaching. I don’t think the situation we have today where Physics 101 is taught with varying degrees of quality and success across Nigerian Universities is sustainable when there is probably a great Physics teacher at Babcock who can teach it as an online course across all Nigerian Universities. In the future, most Nigerian Universities will just adopt the best Physics 101 undergraduate course and not bother to spend more money hiring a professor to teach the course. I can easily see a situation where a few Universities will produce 10 online choruses in disciplines they have the best faculty for and then license the rest of their courses from other Universities as online courses.

Soon enough, we will have a world where the top industry expert in a certain field is teaching every student in that field across several different universities around the world. Those would certainly make for interesting times…

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