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Enabling Change in Nigerian Education with Dr. ​Caroline Obiageli Emeka-Ogbonna

POSTED: Oct. 06, 2021

I am Dr. Caroline Obiageli Emeka-Ogbonna, a Fulbright Visiting Scholar from Nigeria, currently hosted in the Gerald H. Read Center for International and Intercultural Education. My study visit is to develop a program and curriculum of critical thinking courses for the Nigerian Defense Academy (NDA), my country’s premier military university, as well as our wider educational system.

Dr. Caroline Obiageli Emeka-Ogbonna
With a bachelor’s degree in dramatic arts and Master of Arts (M.A.) in English literature, I traveled to University of Exeter, United Kingdom, in 2009 to undertake a Doctorate in Education with interest in the entertainment education practice. There, I found out I had to complete a Master of Science (M.S.) in educational research as a preparatory qualifier for the doctoral program. This M.S. granted me a comfortable footing for my research and also equipped me with diverse capacities and knowledge around research.

My doctoral study was set out to interrogate the non-sustained impact on behavior change through entertainment education interventions such as Geenu Nti (pseudonym), which is an entertainment education program administered in Northern Nigeria by an international public health communication agency for the diffusion of some recommended reproductive health behaviors in the communities.

Guided by the philosophical views of critical inquiry, the study applied qualitative methodological processes to reveal that the program’s extensive use of popular culture would have been best suited for achieving sustainable change in people’s behavior. However, it failed to achieve a lasting impact because of problems relating to power differentiations around contents and processes of the educational engagement. This sparked my desire to explore different possibilities for social justice in educational relationships toward attaining sustainable learning.

I went ahead to draw insights from some educational and change philosophers to develop a model of emancipatory educational change, which I believe when applied to the practice of entertainment education would not only ensure social justice but will also challenge both the educators and the educatees to critical consciousness of their otherness and differences to the degree that each could, in reflection, think critically about their own realities and knowledge to the point of achieving “subjectified socialization,” which guarantees individual’s appropriation of educational impact for sustainability. The study with the model is published in my book, "Emancipatory Approach in Entertainment Education for Sustainable Social Change."

This study introduced me to the importance of critical thinking and the deficiencies thereof in educational engagements either in formal and informal settings. This was even more so apparent in the Nigerian educational system as I returned home in 2014, after my doctorate, to continue teaching communication in English to undergraduate officer cadets. Coincidentally, in 2015, my institution established a Center for Critical Thinking, Teaching and Learning (CCTTL), which had the mandate of improving the quality of teaching and learning in the academy through the application of critical thinking approaches.

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I got seconded to the CCTTL as the deputy director from where I started teaching critical thinking courses as components of some postgraduate programs. Through my deeper engagement with the concept of critical thinking, I came to the realization that there is actually a difference in educational engagements: one which fosters thinking and one which fosters critical thinking. Many teaching strategies strive to challenge learners to think through lesson contents, but then not many actually get the learners to think critically about the contents and life.

In 2019, I was appointed the director of the Center for Critical Thinking, Teaching and Learning. This empowered me to not only resolve the tension between teaching to foster thinking and teaching to foster critical thinking in my higher education teaching practice, but also to support my colleagues and other teachers in achieving higher-order-thinking through educational engagement. A Master of Arts in critical and creative thinking at the University of Massachusetts in Boston seemed a good source of knowledge and skills that would help me in this quest. So, I applied to the Fulbright Visiting Scholar program for a funding opportunity which I was successfully granted.  

However, my placement in UMass failed due to the unfortunate passing of the director and founder of the program. As a result, placement was secured for me in Kent State University by the Fulbright placement team, which has proved a more comprehensive and diverse study opportunity.

Dr. Caroline Obiageli Emeka-Ogbonna with Dr. Joanne Caniglia
Since my arrival to Kent, I have received enormous warmth, generosity, support and cooperation from faculty and staff of Read Center;The College of Education, Health and Human Services; and across the university: from friends I have made in my church community, University Parish Newman Center; and even from a total stranger who drove off his way to gift an umbrella to my daughter and me at a traffic stop where we were waiting to cross the road under the rain. I have been awed by the love and kindness received in Kent State as a testament of a better, humane America than I had ever imagined.

My host professor, Dr. Joanne Caniglia, has shown commendable commitment in facilitating a maximum benefit from the visit. She has continued to connect me with scholars and programs she considers useful for me and my home institution in line with developing the Critical Thinking Program and web-based teaching and learning capacity. Hence, I have been interacting with many offices and people on campus including military officers teaching in the Reserve Officers Training Corp (ROTC), the Center for Teaching and Learning, and many other staff and faculty members who have been noted to be making significant use of critical thinking in their courses.

The resources and ideas generated from these contacts and my host professor’s guidance have inspired a significant expansion on the original scope of my study which promises better impacts for the academy and Nigerian educational system. We have articulated three different programs, which would guarantee an integrated introduction of critical thinking courses to the NDA and to the Nigerian educational system:

  1. A two-year general study course for cadets on critical thinking and leadership skills as a foundation to develop skills for effective engagement with other academic and military courses in the academy.
  2. Continuing professional development short courses for academy lecturers and instructors on the processes of planning, administration and assessment of courses for fostering critical thinking in cadets.
  3. A Master of Arts in critical thinking and interprofessional leadership to be mounted as a postgraduate program for the benefit of non-teaching professionals who also require critical thinking for quality management and service delivery across the nation. This program would lay the foundation for a possible Ph.D. program in the same area.

I am indeed excited and elated at the level of capacity and knowledge I am acquiring from Kent State as I work to consolidate this integrated package by the end of my visit. But even more exciting is the insight I acquired in this process of the possibility of establishing critical thinking and interdisciplinary studies as an independent field of study in higher education. I wish to get another opportunity for a longer period of study to explore this further, preferably still in Kent State.

At Kent State, I have seen a wealth of knowledge and resources shared in a warm and respectful environment; and as a Fulbright Visiting Scholar, I have experienced boundless acceptance, enormous support and respect that constantly challenges me to strive to do more for a better society.  

Written by Fulbright Visiting Scholar Dr. Caroline Obiageli Emeka-Ogbonna. For more information on the Gerald H. Read Center for International and Intercultural Education, visit our webpage.