Have you studied in the same country or city all your life? Or have you moved, like me, from city to city or country to country? If so, have you ever taken a minute to analyze the effect all this moving or lack of movement has had on your education, and how where you studied has shaped the way you think?
As I sat in my first class this year, on legal research methodology, I thought about my journey to McGill and just how different graduate studies here will be. I have studied two disciplines in four countries (the U.K., Nigeria, Canada, and France), so I feel suitably qualified to discuss the benefits and pitfalls of cross-border education.
While the majority of my education was in the U.K. – this is not to belittle the world-famous British educational system – I believe that that was where I was the least motivated as a student. In the U.K., and certainly in Africa, there is a distinction between teachers and students – a kind of us-and-them mentality that makes it more difficult to learn and express yourself. While some disagree with me, I think that in the U.K., you are left to your own devices too much: you are given the assignment and you pretty much go and figure it out yourself. This may help develop independence of thought and self, but it does little for developing a student’s mind in a way that makes them open to different ideas. And of course it means that it takes that much longer to understand what you’re supposed to be doing or the purpose of the task at hand!
The issue with African teaching style, from my experience, is that it can be one-dimensional and extremely descriptive. Students are excellent at the “what is” of anything, but when it comes to the how, or the why, or applications of the concept in other contexts, the result may not be quite as good. That is because, in my opinion, we are essentially taught to regurgitate, not to analyze, information.
The North American model, on the other hand, seeks to help the student achieve. I remember being surprised when I arrived in Canada for grade 12 and the teachers actually explained exactly what they wanted to see in the assignments they set, explained exactly what the exam would be about, where, and how exactly you should search for information, et cetera. With all this assistance, it still beggars belief that people fail! The North American system also encourages confidence in the expression of ideas in whatever form, and the ability to accept others’ critical opinions of one’s work. The emphasis on peer analysis and review I find particularly interesting, because while it may seem logical and normal to North Americans, not all cultures agree with this ideology.
The above notwithstanding, my purpose of writing is not to say that the Canadian educational system is the best. After having experienced different styles, I can say that it is the act of changing systems in itself that will make you see the benefits and drawbacks of your primary system. The goal is to learn how to take the best of each system you’re exposed to and find what works for you.
Timiebi Aganaba is an LL.M. in Air and Space Law. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.