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Ashesi’s Future Curriculum

August 28, 2009

On Friday August 28th, as part of our tour for the groundbreaking, we had a discussion with faculty, some students and the Ashesi leadership team on the future of the curriculum.   Patrick Awuah led the discussion, and he set the context by showing two presentations at TED from this year.  The first was a speech by Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore on the development of virtue, which he defined as practical wisdom.   The main thrust is that learning needs to engage people in the creation of of moral skill to insure kindness, care and empathy in order to better bind together our experience and make society more positive.   The second presentation from TED was by Liz Coleman, the current president of Bennington college.    Dr. Coleman has been involved in transforming Bennington’s approach (including things like wiping out tenure) and by rethinking their curriculum by re-inventing the liberal arts.

We then discussed how this should impact the expansion and evolution of the curriculum as it exists at Ashesi.   Recently Ashesi has also begun a partnership with Babson college, which focuses on entrepreneurship.   Patrick shared his admiration for an approach they have freshman year; where the cohort takes a combined course in which Babson students live the lifecycle of a company—in the process learning about finance, marketing, operations, and the legal aspects of business formation. The students have real money on the line on which they need to break even or pay back the balance.  

In many ways, Ashesi already encompasses aspects defined in these three concepts.   Students take a leadership seminar course the culminates in a fourth year community service project—a very specific set of “practical wisdom.”   Ashesi basically introduced the concept of liberal arts to Ghana, and has used it to significantly change perceptions in both education and in industry.   Senior projects done by Ashesi grads result in real businesses, DreamOval, which I talked about earlier is just one example.

Ashesi is contemplating adding another major, again with a liberal arts foundation; and with more of a concentration in the ethical and communication oriented aspects of business and government life.   We talked a lot about striking a balance and being true to our mission, educating the next generation of African leaders.   One thing that is clear to the major stake holders of the university is that it needs to enable first steps for the new graduates, and that means leaving with an immediately marketable skill.   We also discussed the need to created a good integrated experience across the disciplines early in the first year—you can think of it as the core curricula, or the Babson one year entrepreneurship course (or as David Cornfield talked about the pan-engineering curricula he experienced at the University of Waterloo in systems engineering).

While we didn’t reach a conclusion, the conversation was heartening.   Ashesi is living its mission and thinking about how to evolve and make itself better.   It has a grand long term approach, coupled with a clear practical focus on next best steps.

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