19th century teachers in 21st century classrooms

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By Abdul-Ganiyy Raji

I am a teacher, but I do not have a computer. I am a big teacher in my school though I cannot operate a laptop. I am one of the best teachers in my school, but I don’t know how to teach with a projector. I am a 21st century teacher but I cannot teach with Zoom, Google Classroom, Microsoft or stuff like that. I am an effective teacher but I do not know how to type my lesson plans with a computer. I am a teacher but I don’t know how to make quality short videos for my students. I am a great teacher though I do not know how to prepare my lessons with PowerPoint. I am a 21st century teacher though I am slow at typing with my laptop. I am a 21st century teacher though I can only teach face-to-face with my learners. I cannot hold a virtual classroom.

I make bold to say that present-day teachers who fall in the category of teachers mentioned above are mere 19th or 20th century teachers who are only working (Should I say, making a living?) in 21st century classrooms. Education, like every other sphere of human endeavours, has experienced tremendous progress over time. The definition of an effective and efficient teacher in this 21st century is no longer the same as the definition of an effective and efficient teacher in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Practices that used to be the norms in the teaching profession in times past have given way to new norms. A 19th or 20th century teacher did not need to teach with a computer. He or she did not need to use a projector or PowerPoint, Zoom, Thaquiz, Google Classroom or Microsoft. He or she did not need to hold a virtual classroom. He or she did not need to own a laptop, a printer or a scanner. Teaching in his or her time did not require technological skills. What was required during his or her time was good mastery of one subject or a collection of subjects.

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The current closure of schools has thrown up a new norm in the teaching profession. I believe you know what the new norm is. Schools have now been compelled by circumstances beyond them to operate online classes. Virtual classrooms are now the new baby in the teaching profession in Nigeria. Someone may want to argue that some Nigerian schools were already operating virtual classrooms before this lockdown. My question is, “How many schools? Or, “How often did they even hold such virtual classrooms before the lockdown?”

The truth of the matter is that the fear of a possible loss of students or the need to impress parents has just recently pushed lots of schools to the internet. You know, we all have to do what other schools are doing and we have to convince our parents that we are also big schools. This is not a crime any way. After all, schools, aside from being places where social services are rendered, are also businesses and investments.

However, I must ask this question. Has anyone noticed the deficiencies that the current online teaching has revealed in a good number of teachers? Well, I have and I know quite a number of my readers also have. I have noticed that a good number of our professional colleagues still live in the 19th or 20th century. We still have teachers who do not know how to operate a computer, how to type lessons with a computer or how to present lessons with technological devices.

I have seen teachers who do not know what Zoom is. I have seen teachers who believe that virtual classrooms are not meant for them. I have seen teachers who are “allergic” to the new norms in the teaching profession. I have seen teachers who argue that the way teaching was practised in the 19th and 20th centuries should still be sustained by teachers. I have seen teachers who think that the one and only technological device needed for 21st teaching is a projector. What is virtual teaching? It is just a sheer waste of time? Such teachers will say.

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If a mechanic or a lawyer who acquired his skills in the early 90s will continue to hone and update his skills, if a bricklayer who only trained to build houses with mud or stones has now learnt to build mansions and palaces with state-of-the-art bricks or even set up pre-fabricated buildings, if a carpenter whose only initial skill was to make roofs with asbestos ceiling has now graduated to using modern materials, if automobile companies can choose to upgrade their products on a regular basis, if artisans now carry out their operations with the use of technological devices, (We now see automobile repairers who employ the use of modern devices to x-ray and detect faults in cars), why then should teachers still be living in the 19th or 20th century?

Why shouldn’t we learn to teach with ergonomic and modern devices? Why shouldn’t we continue to update and upscale our core skills as teachers? Why won’t we learn to operate a computer? Why won’t we learn to hold a virtual class?

Recently, I was privileged to be part of an educational seminar held in an American school based in Lagos. What struck me to my marrow in all the sessions I attended while the seminar lasted was the availability of diverse teaching devices in all the classes of the school and the confident and masterful manner in which the teachers of the schools operated all the devices during the sessions they facilitated for the participants. There was never a time any of them sought assistance on how to use a particular machine. These are teachers like us. These are 21st century teachers.

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I know some teachers will want to argue that they do not have many modern educational technologies in their schools. The ones your schools currently have, to what extent have you mastered them? At the American school, I came face to face with educational gadgets that I had never seen in my life. I am not unaware that Nigeria is also blessed with a good number of teachers who are technology-savvy and who are working assiduously to integrate technology into the teaching and learning process in their schools.

I actually know quite a number of such teachers. The truth of the matter, however, is that many of us are still lagging behind. Many of us are yet to understand that teaching has changed from what it used to be. Many of us are yet to come terms with the reality that we are now in the 21st century. A century that requires a new skill set and a new approach to teaching, a century that has given birth to children who are younger than their teachers in age, but many of whom are much older than their teachers in exposure, knowledge and thinking. Such a century is a special century.

To cut the long story short, teachers need to understand that the teaching profession has experienced tremendous growth. Technology has changed the face of teaching. We have to master all or a good number of the necessary devices required by our profession in this century.

If we still teach in the same manner in which we were taught, or use the same old methods which our teachers used during our days, we may then be tagged as 19th or 20th century teachers in 21st century classrooms.

Are you a 21st century teacher?


Abdul-Ganiyy Raji writes from Lagos

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