Teaching mathematics in Africa

Georg Anegg spent three weeks at Ashesi University in Ghana, teaching mathematics to students in the first year of the ETH Master's in Mechatronics Engineering. In the following interview he tells us what it is like to teach at Ashesi and what motivated him to be part of this project.

by Georg Anegg, Monika Krichel
Georg Anegg, Abdulzeid Yen Anaf, Meike Akveld, Nathan Amanquah
[From left] Georg Anegg, Teaching Assistant (ETH); Dr Abdulzeid Yen Anaf, Faculty Intern (Ashesi); Dr Meike Akveld, Lecturer (ETH); Dr Nathan Amanquah, Program Directorate (Ashesi);[not in picture]Dr Elena Rosca, Lecturer (Ashesi);background: Accra

How did you end up going to Ghana as a teaching assistant?

Before starting my doctorate at ETH I spent two years working as a tutor and teaching assistant in South Africa. When Meike Akveld and Alexander Caspar were asked to teach a mathematics module for the new ETH Master's in Mechatronics in Ghana, they were aware of my teaching experience and asked if I would be willing to join them as a teaching assistant. I was more than happy to take this great opportunity.

Ashesi is a small private university in Ghana with a total of just over 1,300 students. What impressed you about the university and what tasks did you have as part of the teaching team?

Ashesi University is small and focuses on a small number of degree programmes. It is located on a beautiful campus just north of Accra overlooking this gigantic city of four million people. The campus is well-maintained and includes a canteen, as well as sports facilities and social spaces. Most students live on campus which creates a wonderfully stimulating environment and atmosphere, somewhat similar to the Hönggerberg campus where students live on site as well.

The courses are given by tandem pairs: two lecturers and two teaching assistants, one from each institution. The four of us were responsible for all the usual tasks: planning the course, delivering the lectures, assisting the students, as well as planning and carrying out suitable forms of assessment. Since each module in the ETH Master’s at Ashesi is only four weeks long, the focus is on continuous assessment. In the final week, the students had to apply their knowledge and present a poster on their findings.

Meike Akveld with a group of female students
'My experiences with teaching in South Africa and also in Ghana are different, for example in the sense that the students have other expectations and mindsets.'
Meike Akveld with a group of female students
Georg Anegg

Is teaching different at Ashesi than at ETH?

I consider them fairly different endeavours. ETH provides an environment where the logistics are well taken care of and you try to get lots of great students, challenge them with hard problems and see who prevails and who's the strongest. My experiences with teaching in South Africa and also in Ghana are different, for example in the sense that the students have other expectations and mindsets. Some of them may only be 23 years old but they might be supporting a family or they’re head of a school in their home country. This creates a fascinating and engaging teaching setting as the students have the opportunity to grow in very different ways than ETH students usually can.

学生和他们的学术背景mathematical level was also very mixed. Some students were on top of the material and asked very challenging questions. Some of them have not had a formal mathematical education and struggled to keep up with our pace because we started at a fairly advanced level – the sort of level we would have at ETH. However, since we had a small class of only 25 students and four people in the teaching team, we were able to adapt the course on the fly and also tailor it to the students. So if we felt that we should change something, like simply taking a break or spending more time on a particular topic, we were able to do that right away. This gave us a lot of flexibility and the opportunity to have much more direct impact on the individual students' learning experience.

In terms of non-academic matters the students were very polite and thoughtful as well as extremely motivated. They put a lot of time into all the material and were not satisfied until all their questions were answered.

Georg Anegg with a group of male students
'It inspires me to be around very bright and dedicated students who work hard and appreciate the type of specialised input that we are able to give them, which is a privilege not all of them have in their own countries.'
Georg Anegg with a group of male students
Georg Anegg

What is your personal motivation? Why do you take part in these projects in Africa?

I’ve had the great pleasure to work with people from many different backgrounds and I’ve always found it to be an immensely rewarding experience for me personally and academically. It inspires me to be around very bright and dedicated students who work hard and appreciate the type of specialised input that we are able to give them, which is a privilege not all of them have in their own countries. Their home universities may struggle with infrastructure issues or with staffing problems like lecturers who may not be as qualified as lecturers in other parts in the world. Ashesi does a great job of creating an enriching environment for students and teachers alike. I was very happy to be invited to come back next year, which I’m excited to do.

Ashesi-ETH Master's in Mechatronics Engineering

ETH Zurich and Ashesi University in Ghana, together with industry partners, are offering a Master's degree programme in mechatronics engineering taught in Ghana by faculty members from both institutions. The programme is aimed at promoting the next generation of leaders in sub-Saharan Africa who will take responsibility for sustainable development in the region.

The collaboratively developed programme is taught in tandem between faculty members from Ashesi University and ETH Zurich. The close interaction between the two institutions allows knowledge transfer in both directions.

Structured as a series of block courses over three years, graduates of the joint programme will be awarded both a Master of Science (MSc) degree from Ashesi University and an ETH Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) degree.

Information on the programme, course content and scholarships

JavaScript has been disabled in your browser