Effective learning through local approaches

How do the BUILD materials work? Occasional blogposts will explore that question. The training materials were created in a series of local curriculum development workshops, as explained elsewhere on this site. Those workshops grew out of earlier interviews and focus group discussions in the Church of Uganda. One observation that a theological educator from the west of Uganda shared illustrates a major theme that emerged:

“Traditional culture is oral rather than literary. Theologically trained people will work mainly among people in the local congregation whose thinking is still tied to oral traditions: so how can one be relevant in that situation? In Bakiga traditional education oral sources are more valued: riddles, proverbs, and stories. When lecturers teach a story it may only come in as a ‘by the way’.”

The culture is changing, particularly in urban areas, but that insight regarding the orality of local cultures and the importance of story has been applied to the curriculum in a range of ways. One example: Module Two is called Genesis and the Pentateuch: Knowing God’s Story and Leading by Faith. The fifteen unit module begins with participants engaging in this exercise: “Can you recall a well-known story in your own local culture? It might be the story of how a group of people such as the Baganda came into being. Or it might be a story about the origins of evil. Share that story with the group.”

That discussion sets in motion a learning process that leads participants through several important areas in the course of the module as they follow that thread. First, the ingredients of a good story are identified, and then are then applied immediately to appreciating and understanding the overall plot of the Bible. Second, those ingredients are reviewed and utilised in a later unit to help learners encounter and interpret individual stories within the Pentateuch. Third, the initial stories that the participants enjoyed sharing invariably include ones that relate to peace-making or other local agreements. Those are then retold in order to illustrate a unit of teaching, ‘God’s covenants and our covenants’. Participants frequently add in other stories or describe how those ceremonies play out in practice. Finally, the theme of stories is used to rehearse learning from the first module, where participants learnt to share their own testimonies. ‘Testimony’ itself is not foreign: it is appreciated in the Church and surrounding churches, with their East African Revival roots, within which testimony is such a powerful motif. And through this process participants helped to see and be encouraged by the way their stories connect with God’s great story, and to learn to lead by faith.

Undergirding all this is the learning environment that this process creates: an environment in which learners at the grassroots are encouraged to value their culture and its learning approaches, rather than putting it all to one side. BUILD trainers are learning to teach and use a story not as a “by the way” but as the way or at least a key way to lay a foundation for biblical learning that builds on what is already in place.