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Mbah sets educational sights on elevating Nigerian schools

Ndubueze Mbah pictured in Davis Hall atrium.

UB faculty member Ndubueze Mbah hopes to reform the elementary and secondary school systems in the Enugu State of Nigeria using learning models honed in UB’s Experiential Learning Network. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published March 7, 2024

“I find myself lighting the torch of an education revolution focused on experiential learning in the continent. And UB has made it possible. ”
Ndubueze Mbah, associate professor of history and commissioner of education
Enugu State, Nigeria

UB faculty member Ndubueze Mbah has been chosen commissioner of education for the Nigerian subnational Enugu State, taking on a mission of reforming the state’s elementary and secondary school systems using learning models honed in UB’s Experiential Learning Network as educational guides.

Mbah’s task presents a chance for dramatic, comprehensive improvement in basic education for a key section of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Mbah’s immediate future will be what he calls “the litmus of development in the Global South” for about 228,800 Nigerian students.

“As it is, I find myself lighting the torch of an education revolution focused on experiential learning in the continent,” says Mbah, associate professor of history, following his appointment championed by the governor of Enugu State. “And UB has made it possible.”

Mbah, a UB faculty member for 10 years, was supported by the Department of History and the College of Arts and Sciences to reduce his teaching obligation for the fall so that he could take advantage of this opportunity. He has been active as commissioner since August.

Mbah sees and defines the educational problems in his native country clearly.

A “deficit” in the education infrastructure, a scarcity of teachers leading to poor pupil-to-teacher ratios and not enough “qualified teachers capable of delivering the basic education curriculum and leveraging education technologies to enhance learning” have all bred an education crisis, according to Mbah. Seventy-five percent of the children completing basic education lack “foundational literacy and numeracy,” he says.

“After four years of schooling, 50% of K-6 pupils cannot read a single word in English, and even those who can read struggle with comprehension,” says Mbah. “After six years of schooling, 50% of K-6 cannot solve simple subtraction problems.”

International agencies, including the World Bank, UNICEF and UNESCO, as well as the Nigerian Ministry of Education call this Nigeria’s “learning crisis” and the greatest threat to the nation’s economic development.

Looking for a “holistic and sustainable solution,” the UB professor/educational commissioner turned to the Experiential Learning Network (ELN), which connects students with faculty-mentored projects and supports their engagement as they work toward earning digital badges.

“Following a period of research into the learning crisis and skills gap, which included solutions-seeking conferences and workshops, it became clear to us that experiential learning would be a meaningful intervention for Enugu State,” says Mbah. “But it would have to be adapted to suit local needs, and must be locally driven and systematically linked to sustainable development goals to succeed.”

Prof. Mbah leading the Inaugural Experiential Learning Training Workshop.

Ndubueze Mbah leads the inaugural Experiential Learning Training Workshop for Enugu Basic Education Smart Teachers, held last November at the College of Immaculate Conception in Enugu, Nigeria.

To achieve this, Mbah and Mara Huber, associate dean for undergraduate research and experiential learning, and director of the ELN, developed a customized experiential learning model for Enugu — called the CASE-PEARL EL Model — that they piloted in Enugu schools last fall.

CASE supports teachers in developing experiential learning lessons and activities that feature collaboration, achievement, skill development and evidence of engagement. The PEARL EL framework supports students as they activate experiences in supporting academic and professional goals.

“The impact has been transformative for both teachers and pupils,” says Mbah, “and we are now expanding the program to scale.”

The significance of Mbah’s work is vast.

The effort — a comprehensive reform of basic education, beginning with pre-primary grades and extending up to secondary, vocational, tertiary and teacher training while also integrating experiential learning and sustainable development goals with a focus on local solutions to global challenges — is unique and has implications for Nigeria and much of Africa.

“His work will also bring exciting opportunities for UB students and colleagues to engage through their own experiential learning activities,” Huber says. “The ELN Project Portal and Global Partner Studio will serve as a connector and amplifier for these efforts as they evolve.”

Mbah, who continues traveling back and forth to UB from Enugu, says being a faculty member at UB enables him “to bring the benefits of research, scholarship and creative activities to international communities in ways that positively impact the world around us.”