Last year, I visited two countries in West Africa. During my visit I decided to make a presentation in the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and to teach a course in the University of Bamako in Mali. I wanted to have an experience of how teaching and learning works in West Africa and to share my own experience from the North with the students.
In Burkina Faso I made a presentation to geography students of the university. After listening very attentively to my presentation, the students were very interested in how I got to Finland, which was obscure to them. As a matter of fact, the students knew nothing about Finland and couldn’t imagine where Finland is located until I told them.
“I got to Finland by applying to study there at the Master’s and was successful,” I replied.
“Are the Finns nice to foreigners?” another student asked.
“The Finns are quite nice to foreigners,” I replied.

In the University of Bamako in Mali I taught a course on qualitative research methodology to licentiates of the university. For the class I created a group mailing address for the students and instructed them to submit their paper before their presentation.
It was at this point I realised that this method of teaching using the internet wasn’t familiar to the students because some had never had an email address or used a computer before.
“Are you surprised that licentiates here know nothing about computing,” one junior researcher of another department asked me when I was helping the students to create an email address and to show them how to log in.
“I’m shocked because in Finland for example, even 3-year-olds can use a computer,” I replied.

All in all, it was an interesting experience for me and the students because of the exchanges we had during the lectures.
I found that one difference between the academic culture of the North and South is that in the North, we tend to use a lot of technological tools for teaching and learning, while in the South, they still rely on chalk and the blackboard.
On the other hand, I think many students in the South have limited practical knowledge about some countries in the North and for this reason, North–South-cooperation should be encouraged. The good thing is that despite the differences, students in the South are able to learn the same things like their counterparts in the North.

Thomas Babila Sama

The writer is a student of social and public policy.