September 2022

September 2022 Blog: Peer Learning and Teaching. Can They Improve Learning and Addressing Staff Shortage in Our Medical Education Systems? A Game Changer Perspective.

Ideally, teachers are needed to plan, execute, monitor and evaluate the process of learning in schools formally. But this does not exclude the role of what students can do to enhance learning among themselves. Sometimes, either knowingly or unknowingly, teachers found themselves dictating the whole learning process as if they are coding robots.  We need to implement teaching approaches which involve full students’ participation and ownership of the process. This does not only ensure sustainability in terms of understanding but also develops and nurtures students’ interests in a particular subject. It paves a clearly and un-doubtful way towards one’s career when done in primary and secondary levels of education. In tertiary level, this plays a great role in determines one’s career interest and further specialization.

During my nursery school, it happened I was given a chance to present something in front of the class. I did it and I never know the impact of it to the understanding of the subject among my fellow classmates by then, I just assumed I presented something and It was over. It was until my primary school, when I was in standard four. Because I had already developed interest in Science, I was one among the students who was active in asking and responding to questions during the science subject sessions. It reached a point our science teacher trusted me and gave me a chance to teach and give instruction to my classmates under his supervision during some of the sessions. I had to read well before and organize how I will deliver the lesson with vivid examples sometimes. I was astonished after I heard some stories from my friends that I enabled them to understand some things more easily compared to when they were presented by the teacher. I don’t say my teacher was not good in teaching, but there was a missing piece which needed a student to fill it, and I did it. We are having a lot of students who can fill that missing piece in our schools, let us invest in them. From that time, I used to teach my classmates and those who were in lower classes whenever the teacher was not able to attend the session, or they needed more clarification on something. Whenever my knowledge and skills were not enough, I asked for help from my fellow students or teachers. And it was productive. This made me understand things more deeply and memorize them easily. Instructing others and helping them to understand some thins was not a wastage of time to me, but it was a chance for me to learn too, from myself and from others.

I did the same thing during my high school and it was a very amazing experience which made me develop a strong interest in teaching and exploring things in deep with the ability to explain them in a very simplified way. Being equipped with knowledge is one thing, and being able to deliver it in a simplified, digestible and understandable way before students is another thing. Simply, teaching is an art and not merely the fact of being knowledgeable than others. Those who are less knowledgeable but with teaching skills are more likely to transform more knowledge to their students than those who are more knowledgeable but with no teaching skills.
In my medical school, I proposed to my class the establishment of the so called Class Academic Forum (CAF). This was a special academic committee for addressing some academic issues in a peer approach. We use to have extra-class sessions where some students volunteered to instruct, share skills and give more clarifications sometimes on what was taught or was supposed to be taught in class. Under this committee, we used to have final touch discussion together as a whole class and those who understood things in details get a chance to share the knowledge with others. All of these showed to me how peer learning and teaching can be embraced as both essential element of learning in our medical schools and a temporal solution towards shortage of staff members in our schools. A number of students reported also to understand more when the concept was presented by their colleagues compared relatively to when the Lecturer did.

Most of staff members in our medical schools especially in developing countries tend to be teachers while practicing at the same time. Sometimes they don’t get enough time to attend patients and class sessions at the same time, and you find mostly they do miss classes. I have heard a lot of cases like this from my friends in a number of medical schools. Sometimes you find students are assigned tasks in groups and the session needs more than one person for facilitation, but still you find only one lecturer is struggling to do the task. This is real a problem of medical education concern. Respective medical schools might have implemented a number of strategies to address the matter, but we should accept the fact that peer learning and teaching has got a key role to play in learning process in our medical schools. 

When well mentored, some students might be helpful to their fellow students in the same class and to their juniors. They can complement the learning process in our medical schools even under the presence of enough staff members. They can be good peer facilitators in some academic tasks in our medical schools and at the end they can grow into becoming future good medical educators. Our medical schools should empower and encourage the practice of peer learning including teaching by providing supportive and conducive environments. Handbooks or guidelines on the matter can be made available to students and special programs be designed to facilitate and nurture volunteers and students’ academic affairs generally. I hope this will improve learning and to some extent address the shortage of staff in our medical education systems in a cost-effective way.

Harold Mashauri
Kilimanjaro Christian Medical University (KCMUCo)