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La-cram, la-pour: A human capital crisis

La-cram, la-pour: A human capital crisis
May 20
11:05 2024

If you are a Nigerian reading this, I believe I can safely assume you know what “la-cram, la-pour” means. For my non-Nigerian readers, the easiest translation for the phrase is rote memorization. “La-cram, la-pour” speaks to view the process of learning as just about memorizing the facts one has been taught (the la-cram part) and being able to say it back to the teacher in quizzes/exams or anyone else (the la-pour part).

My concern today is the harm this has done to students and the nation at large, particularly at higher education levels. The la-cram, la-pour style of education that has taken over our tertiary campuses has the potential for greater harm than we generally think it does. It only leads to students graduating with degrees in professions they are not confident they can solve real-life problems in, but with time, it also chips at their fundamental creative potential. Students do not only learn about their disciplines in higher education; they also learn how to learn for the rest of their careers. When students come to fundamentally view the process of learning as being at the receiving and regurgitating end of knowledge, instead of the creative and exploratory end, it can shape the way they think about learning for the longer term. They become robbed of the confidence they need to become creators and problem solvers because they are used to waiting hand and foot on someone else for the “right” ideas. 

But where is the root of the “la-cram, la-pour” issue really? 

For a long time, “la-cram, la-pour” has been made to look like a solely student problem. It is painted as if students are always trying to be lazy, which makes them find the easy path towards good grades through memorization. But is this really true? Or is this more of a societal paradigm of education instead of a lazy student’s issue? 

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Do the pedagogical methods students encounter through their education show them any other way? Is there any chance that our pedagogy, including teaching styles and what teachers expect from students, have a role to play in the proliferation of “la-cram, la-pour”? Does our education system, especially at the tertiary level, encourage students towards thinking for themselves instead of cramming? Are our classrooms designed to invite students to co-create knowledge instead of memorize it? Do our lecturers have the teaching training that empowers them to know how to get students engaging deeply with knowledge instead of sitting and hearing the lecturer reel off facts? Are our students even allowed to speak and argue with the facts their lecturers present to them without being seen as disrespectful? Do we not just want them to take what we said, arrange it neatly in their minds, and say it back to us in the exams? Are the exams themselves designed to inquire that student’s reason in their own way, beyond just retelling the facts they have been told in class?

If you are conversant with higher education and try to answer all of those questions I have asked, it becomes easy to see that this is not just a student problem; it is a system problem. The whole system is designed to either overtly or covertly promote memorization. The students are sometimes the victims themselves, not the perpetrators. Our education system is ingrained with the paradigm that sees learning as being told facts, knowing how to remember the facts, and knowing how to flawlessly say it back to someone else. 

Yet, this has consequences. Dire human capital consequences. Our media is awash with news of rising unemployment and unemployability. Yet, there is also the contrasting news of talent shortage in corporate Nigeria. So we have people—educated people— who don’t seem to be able to deliver what is required of human talent, despite their education. A 2022 article published in The Rest of World detailed how Nigerian startups are raising billions but are not able to find talented workers within the country. And no, it was not just about the technical roles that require specialized tech skills; they are also having trouble filling the general roles like administrative, marketing, etc. Anyone who has ever tried finding talent will understand the struggle.

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Am I saying that “la-cram, la-pour” is the sole reason we have this contrasting human capital crisis of talent shortage in the midst of a huge, young, and educated population? Not necessarily. But I am arguing it plays some role in it. You can’t expect young people, who have spent their first and formative 18 to 21 years going through an education system that insists they prioritize just being told what to know and rewards their ability to regurgitate flawlessly, to suddenly turn around and adjust to the demands of the corporate world that consistently demands they think outside the box. I think it is unfair to expect students who have been taught to primarily recall what they have been told to suddenly know how to do anything else. We literally constructed the box and put them in it for the best part of their formative years. And after they graduate, we turn around to demand they come up with innovative things outside the box! What “outside the box” thinking do we want them to do when, through their lives, most of the education has never really given enough room for creative thinking in the first place? 

Oluwatoyin is a Doctoral Researcher in STEM Education, Social Impact Leader and Education Policy Advocate.  She writes from Nigeria and the United States. She can be reached at [email protected] or on LinkedIn here.



Views expressed by contributors are strictly personal and not of TheCable.

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