New avenues opening up in educational sciences for higher education collaboration in African countries

University of Helsinki

The Faculty of Educational Sciences of the University of Helsinki promotes collaboration between Finnish higher education institutions and African countries. For this purpose, the Global Innovation Network for Teaching and Learning has been established.

Docent, University Researcher Hanna Posti-Ahokas and Postdoctoral Researcher Elizabeth Eta work under GINTL. (Image: Hanna Salomäki)

University Researcher and Docent Hanna Posti-Ahokas works in the Global Innovation Network for Teaching and Learning GINTL.

“For instance, the manifestations of the differentiation of teaching and active learning are very different in classrooms with dozens of pupils and insufficient learning materials,” Posti-Ahokas says.

And yet, the most central questions related to the matter pertain to teachers’ professional skills, identity and motivation, and how these are shaped by societal structures. Joint research opens up perspectives on matters at the heart of teaching, learning and collaboration, and how the implementation of high-quality education requires special understanding of local circumstances.

The Global Innovation Network for Teaching and Learning, which is part of the national global pilots of the Ministry of Education and Culture (link in Finnish only), aims to promote the global connections of Finnish higher education institutions particularly in the educational sciences.

The network of 20 universities and universities of applied sciences are developing novel forms of partnership for solving global educational challenges. Regional networks under GINTL in Africa, China and India pursue the same overall goals.

Connecting Finnish and African operators

A central goal of GINTL Africa is to survey the existing partnerships of Finnish and African higher education institutions and bring operators together to increase their impact.

“For example, the University of Namibia is a very popular partner for Finnish higher education institutions,” says Posti-Ahokas. “It’s important to develop cooperation in a coordinated manner so that individual projects put no unnecessary strain on the partner university’s administration.”

In the field of teacher training in particular, collaboration between Finnish research universities and universities of applied sciences is important, as teacher training is provided at the latter level in most African countries.

Collaboration for the development of research-based education

GINTL supports the joint research-based development of the education provided by higher education institutions through thematic seminars, network meetings, and project and travel funding.

The topics under development in currently funded projects include home economics teaching in Ghana, learning by design in South-African schools and operating models in support of teacher training in Somalia. A coordination team at the Faculty of Educational Sciences also conduct research independently on partnerships and their development, as well as supervising theses related to the international development of education.

Hanna Posti-Ahokas has worked as a researcher and specialist in, for example, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Eritrea. She is interested in understanding the practices and dynamics of international educational collaboration in higher education institutions. A research project in its initial stages investigates, among other things, the topics of doctoral theses, written in Finland in the educational sciences, on education in African countries and partnerships relevant to these doctoral thesis projects. The quality, relevance and usability of the research are assessed using a range of partially contradictory criteria.

“What kind of research-based knowledge best serves the development of education, what capabilities are there for utilising such knowledge, and how is research focused on questions related to education and development funded?” Posti-Ahokas muses.

Posti-Ahokas’s own doctoral thesis focused on factors that affect the educational progress of Tanzanian girls and young women.

The ongoing supervision of doctoral theses sheds light on the practical realities of education in various contexts.

“I hope GINTL can offer genuine opportunities for promoting collaborative research and development among Finnish and African higher education institutions,” Posti-Ahokas notes. “The investigation of structural barriers to collaboration, of which there are several, is also important.”

How can we establish partnerships that are as fair and meaningful as possible to all parties? What is the role of higher education institutions in international educational collaboration? It is these questions to which GINTL is looking for answers.

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