A Theory – Practice Based (TPB) approach to learning 

Dr Qinisani Qwabe – Lecturer: Natural Resource Management Programme 

Teaching and Learning (T&L) should be fun, relevant, and meaningful. When I speak of relevance, I refer to the ability of the theory to add value to the student’s life. I have been part of the College for the past five months, offering sequential courses for (aspiring) conservation managers. The College’s contribution to the students has been underpinned by the much-needed practical approach to teaching and learning, which forms the backbone of these courses which form part of the flagship programmes.  

It is worth noting that having worked in a typical university setting for the past five years, I have mainly been exposed to the master-authoritative model of learning where the lecturer is the custodian of information, and the student is the recipient. This has its pros and cons. The Theory-Practice Balance (TPB) approach that is, however, adopted for T&L at the SAWC has shed a different light on me and broadened my thinking on T&L. As a significant component involves practice and research, the TPB approach encourages students to be responsible for their learning. Of course, the different teaching approaches and willingness of students to learn also count. But assuming that all the students have the same will and put in much effort in their work, which is currently the case, the TPB approach would be a winning recipe for impactful education. I have also learned from the students on several occasions, mainly from their research which they blend with desktop inquiries and lived experiences.  

In recently teaching a course in Biological Systems within the context of conservation, I was privileged to be facilitating a section on plant taxonomy. Since most of the College’s students work in conservation areas, they were tasked to investigate different species in their biomes and provide a complete profile of the species of interest that they would have identified. This would include the Genus and Family names, plant uses, etc. Many engaging presentations were made, and research formed a critical part of this assessment. As one who has much interest in social ecology, what was more interesting was the rich information that students held on the ecological benefits of these plants and their relationship with humans. As per their assertions, these sessions benefited both the students and me. To prove that classroom discussions do not only end within the parameters of our classes, but I also introduce one of my vibrant students, Ms Ashley Steinthorpe.  

Ashley is originally from Johannesburg but has resided in the Hoedspruit area since 2021. She is currently on the Rietspruit Game Reserve where she works for a LIVE Safari Company. Upon learning about the uses of Bidens pilosa, commonly known as Black Jack, Ashley made a meal from the plant and savoured it with pap (cooked maize meal). In her words, it was “scrumptious” and now forms part of her nutritious diet. Bidens pilosa is considered a weed in the farming community and has been red listed by many. It has, however, been proven to contain valuable medicinal benefits for those suffering from inflammation, hypertension, ulcers, and diabetes.

I am happy to witness a transformed way of thinking about the crop. Hopefully, we will now see a changed behaviour around it where it is perceived as a valuable crop and not a mere weed. I wish to see more of a TPB-based approach in many programme offered in institutions of higher education in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and not just at the SAWC.