A True Learning Experience

As I enter the last week of my internship, I have had a chance to reflect on how much I learned during my three months here in Addis Ababa. Like anything in life, there are pros and cons to every experience — below are a few of the challenges and highlights from my time in Ethiopia. If I were to write everything I did and learned during my time here, this blog post would be too long so I am going to use bullet points in an effort to be more concise. I always want to end on a positive note, so I’ll start with the challenges.

Challenges

  • Some days were just really, really boring
  • Turns out I hate sitting at a desk for 8+ hours everyday
  • Getting stuff done when your co-workers take leave for months at a time can be difficult and frustrating
  • Development work is often very bureaucratic and there is never enough money for anything (but I have also learned that, beyond money, persistence and passion are important components for making things happen)

Highlights

  • I think the greatest thing I have gained is simply having been able to see development in action. It was as if everything we read and discussed in class had come to life. It has confirmed that development work is complicated, but also exciting.
  • The teachers’ workshop on engaging female students in STEAM subjects was a great highlight of my internship. I was finally able to put my skills into practice and had the chance learn a lot through my interactions with teachers from various countries
  • A majority of the work our office does focuses on gender-responsive pedagogy and teacher development, two of my major interests, so it was a joy to work in a place where other people are passionate about it as well
  • The people I work with are wonderful and kind
  • Addis Ababa is a major hub of development for Africa
  • Networking! I had the chance to meet and interact with a lot of important and intelligent educational professionals
  • Being given the chance to sit in some very important meetings and conferences with the director even though I am “just an intern”
  • I was able to reunite with a few friends from Tanzania!
  • Ethiopian food, dancing, and music are a few of my favorite things
  • COFFEE (bunna in Amharic). Coffee gets its own bullet point because it is out of this world. Read my favorite story of the origin of coffee here
  • Traveling outside of the city always lent itself to beautiful scenery and a nice change of pace

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This internship affirmed that education is my passion and the field I hope to work in for the rest of my life. The form that takes may be different from what I have done here, but I hope to always work in the education sector in some capacity.

It has been really important for me to reflect on my internship this way now that it is coming to an end. The day-to-day routine was sometimes tough and it took a long time for me to figure out how I could best contribute to the work they do here, but as I look at my list above, I cannot help but smile as my list of highlights is longer than my list of challenges.

I am certain that I have learned a number of skills here that will help in my future career. Everything — from improving my writing, to planning seminars, to networking — will help me be a better educational professional going forward. I am so ready and excited for whatever is next!

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Full STEAM Ahead!

Now that my last post has laid the foundation about last week’s teacher workshop, I feel like I can write about what I learned and reflected on personally.

I’m not sure if I learned more from the actual sessions of the workshop or from watching the hard work of the facilitators and partners who made it all possible. Concerning the former, I am grateful I had the opportunity to interact with the teachers and learn more about each of their contexts. As for the latter, it solidified my desire to continue in this line of work, namely education and development. They were patient and able to quickly improvise when things did not go exactly as planned, and I admired their dedication to find solutions when this was the case. They know a lot about the development field and I learned a lot from listening to them talk to one another about various organizations, initiatives, and strategies.

Throughout the week, the sessions gave me a lot to think about. We did a lot of work about how to use ICT as a means of engaging female students and teach STEAM lessons. This made me think about just how diverse the range of ICT resources and abilities were in the meeting room. This is one of the challenges. If teachers have not been taught to use technology, how can they be expected to effectively use it to teach in their classrooms? One teacher told me that she really enjoyed the sessions that had them engaging with computers and tablets, but the problem was that there is no time in her life as a teacher and a mother to teach herself how to use them most effectively. How do we mitigate this issue? And what about schools that do not have electricity or access to technology?

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One practical answer is the smart phone. During the first presentation from Microsoft, one of the representatives explained that people only use about 10% of the capabilities of their smart phones. If we could learn to really harness the abilities of these mobile devices, we can have a great impact on education because just about everyone has a smart phone these days. It seems so practical…to use the resources we already have in new and improved ways. We must be innovative and use what is right under our noses! It not only opens a world of possibilities but also can help make learning more relevant.

On the flip side of the technology issue, I was happy that some of the sessions were not ICT dependent. As I mentioned in my previous post, teachers spent a lot of time engaging with everyday, locally available materials and brainstorming ways to make them into effective teaching and learning aids. When it comes to education, where there is a will — and a bit of creativity — there is a way! I think the teachers enjoyed these sessions the most, no ICT required. This just goes to show that one of the most important aspects of education is the teacher him or herself. Technology is just a tool, and frankly, in my opinion, it is not always needed.

The other thing I thought a lot about near the end of the week, was the “now what?” The workshop was wonderful and the teachers did gain a lot of new ideas to take home with them, but this is not enough. Without proper support or follow up, I guarantee that within three months, teachers are back to their old ways and the ministers of education have forgotten about their action plans. There needs to be a system in place to keep up with the teachers and administrators, to support them in continuing their efforts and make sure they are, in fact, doing what they said they would do to inspire their female students to better engage in STEAM subjects.

Before the week began, all of the participants filled out an online survey to pre-assess their knowledge and opinions about STEAM, gender-responsive pedagogies, and ICT. At the end of the week, they took a post-survey, to gather more information about what they learned from the workshop and to see if/how their mindsets changed. The data from these surveys will hopefully be very useful for determining how to best support teachers in each of their contexts going forward.

Additionally, in the spirit of using technology, a group was formed on Whatsapp so that the participants as well as the facilitators could keep in touch, share ideas, and hold each other accountable. The hope is that this is an easy, relevant way to people to keep in touch since so many people use Whatsapp already. From what I have seen so far in the group, some teachers have already shared STEAM lesson ideas and pictures of their female students actively engaging in STEAM subjects. This could be a wonderful resource for the participants if they stay committed to sharing about their ideas and success in the classroom.

I hope that this is only the beginning of a wonderful program and lasting connections for teachers who can inspire each other and work together. It is possible, however, that like many education development initiatives, without significant means of follow up and accountability, the gains made by everyone from last week will quickly fall through the cracks. I guess it all depends on how you measure success. I believe that if even only one teacher slightly changes his/her approach to teaching STEAM subjects, finds innovative ways to engage all students, and shares his/her learning with other teachers, then the workshop as a success. I know, however, that the donors and participating partners, who put a lot of time and money into this, may not see it that way. They want numbers and reportable data. So, here’s hoping that the dedication to this initiative which was expressed last week, is lasting and substantial.

Who Run the World? Girls…and their Technology!

Last week, in collaboration with a number of international organizations, we helped plan and facilitate a teacher workshop for teachers, administrators, and ministers of education from six countries in Africa, including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tanzania. The purpose of this inaugural workshop was to educate the participants in how to better engage their female students in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts/Design, and Mathematics (STEAM). The two main areas of focus, then, were gender-responsive pedagogies and the STEAM subjects. There was also a lot of emphasis on using ICT in the classroom. Needless to say, it was an incredibly exciting week!

My posts about this workshop will be in two parts: the first will explain about the practicalities of the workshop itself and, in the second, I will provide more of an analysis and share my personal thoughts about it.

Day 1: August 29th
On August 29th, the workshop got off to a great start here in Addis Ababa. The theme for the first day’s sessions was: “What fun STEAM is! Awareness raising and understanding the importance of STEAM for girls.”

In the morning, participants heard from notable individuals including a former ambassador, representatives from UNESCO and the US Embassy, and a high-ranking employee from Microsoft. Then, a student from the US Embassy’s Girls Can Code program spoke about how her participation in Girls Can Code has raised her confidence and her interest in the STEAM subjects, which previously seemed inaccessible to her.

Day 2: August 30th
The theme for Day 2 was: How can we make STEAM more fun and effective for girls? The day began with a presentation from a Kenyan-based education NGO about gender-responsive pedagogy, which provided participants with an opportunity to discuss various aspects of the issues girls face in education.

In the afternoon, a project officer from our office, presented on the use of ICT in STEAM with gender awareness. This was followed by a presentation about how to apply gender-responsive pedagogies. The day ended with participants working in groups to analyze lesson plans and textbooks for gender responsiveness.

Day 3: August 31st
On Day 3, the participants focused on preparing innovative and exciting lessons. In the morning, another Kenyan-based teacher education organization introduced how to enhance gender-responsive STEAM using the Activities, Students, Experiments and Improvisation – Plan, Do, See, Improve (ASEI-PDSI) approach in lesson delivery. In order to aid understanding of innovative and engaging lesson plans, teachers worked in groups to do a science experiment and make predictions about what would happen.

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In the afternoon, representatives from Microsoft for East and Southern Africa presented about their organization, led a discussion on how technology can enhance learning in a positive way, and shared some resources that teachers may be interested in using in their teaching. Microsoft has initiated and supported a number of educational efforts in Africa.

Day 4: September 1st
This day was all about preparing STEAM teaching and learning materials. In the morning, there was an engaging presentation on how to make teaching aids using locally available resources. Then, teachers spent time doing group work, when they were able to prepare their own teaching and learning materials. They worked in four groups, each focused on a different STEAM-related subject. The groups explored Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics. The objective of this session was to help teachers find innovative and creative ways to teach lessons in a practical manner. Teachers were very actively engaged in this session. They created a number of interesting and innovative materials, such as a rocket with water bottles, biology models with balloons, geo-boards from cardboard, a battery made from a lemon, and so much more!

In the afternoon, two female secondary students from Addis Ababa spoke with the group about how they learn, the importance of equal opportunities for female and male students, and the significance of hands-on learning in STEAM subjects.

Day 5: September 2nd
On the final day, teachers presented the model lessons that they worked on in their subject groups on previous days. Throughout the model lessons, the other teachers provided feedback, highlighting the ways in which they have used STEAM. The teachers were very attentive and eager to learn from each other during these morning presentations.

The participants worked together in their country groups to create an action plan for the way forward. Many of the country groups said they would share what they learned with other teachers and schools, incorporate gender-responsive pedagogy in the STEAM subjects, develop positive educational opportunities for girls, and continue engaging with the supporting organizations to improve their teaching strategies.

The week was quite a success. Teachers were keen to return home to share what they learned with other teachers and their students. Personally, I was just excited as the teachers and eager to learn about how my supervisor would want me to follow up now that the workshop had concluded.

More about that next time!…along with my personal reflections on the week.

 

Note: All pictures were taken with permission.

The Power of Technology…and Lack Thereof

A few weekends ago, I had the opportunity to travel outside of the city of Addis Ababa with my roommates to a place called Debre Libanos, where we did a bit of hiking. Everything was green and hilly, so beautiful and quite different from the city.

On the drive out there, I noticed just how rural it was, but considering that, a number of telephone wires still lined the long, winding roads and many people carried smart phones. It made me ask myself about the pros and cons of technology, something I have often thought about, especially when traveling. Additionally, ICT is a huge topic in education and I always flip-flop about how I feel about that; it was never a major interest of mine within educational development.

I often think that we are all just a little too connected…I mean, I stare at a screen for 8+ hours every day at work. But then I also remember the wonderful power of technology, which allows me to keep in touch with my family, friends, and classmates all over the world in the blink of an eye. I think about how much I have been able to teach myself just by Google-ing it and I have access to news all over the world in an instant. How amazing. Smart phones help us keep in touch and be aware of what is going on globally. ICT does play a significant and important role in educational opportunities and our everyday lives.

All of these thoughts occurred on my two-hour drive, the day before I would sit in a security briefing at work. There have been protests in Ethiopia because the government is looking to expand the city limits of Addis Ababa, which would cut into the land of the Oromo people (read more here). The Oromo people, understandably, are not too happy about this possibility. In the briefing, the director of security spoke of the powers of technology I had been reflecting on the day before. Because of social media sites and apps like Facebook and WhatsApp, people are able to better organize and communicate regarding these protests and other movements. One could argue whether or not this is a positive thing…on the one hand, the people should have the right to protest peacefully and spreading the word on social media can help more people join the cause; on the other hand, as the director who briefed us explained, it can lead to quick-spread, nationwide protests, which are more difficult to organize or contain. Technology can serve as a way to bring people together for an important cause but, in its anonymity, it can sometimes be more difficult to control.

Not to mention, in this country, the government has the ability to shut down all communication completely at any time. When I first arrived, all social media websites and apps were shut down during an important university entrance exam, claiming fear that the test may be leaked (which had happened already in May). Then, a few weekends ago, things were shut down again. Also, because there is only one major phone service, it is just as easy to shut down the phone network. In the midst of all this, the UN Human Rights Council declared shutting down the Internet as a human rights violation. The international community has urged the Ethiopian government to allow observers to come witness the protests; initially they said yes, but have changed their minds.

In fact, as I sit here writing the first draft of this blog post, the Internet shut down again. When access to the Internet, news, and the ability to communicate with others is denied, that is an abuse of power. Technology should not be used as a weapon. However, when used correctly, ICTs can be an amazing resource for things like education, development, and important social justice movements. It’s all about the way we use it and I think, ultimately, it is a good thing.

Update: Hoping to raise more awareness about the current political state of Ethiopia, this Ethiopian Olympian made an important gesture and showed his solidarity with those who are protesting.

Open Session on Education for Refugee and Displaced Children in Africa

During my internship, I have found that the most rewarding opportunities have been the unexpected ones. Last Monday, the director of our organization asked if I would like to accompany her to the African Union (AU) for an open session. Even without knowing what it was about, I knew it would be a great learning experience so I said yes. She then explained that the meeting would be with the AU’s Peace and Security Council regarding the status of education for refugee and displaced children in Africa.

The next morning we headed to the AU, where we ran into some people we knew from the American Embassy, including the intern who had shown me around there a few weeks ago, and the Foreign Service Officer who had given me his business card (#GottaCatchEmAll).

There were many international organizations and member states of the Peace and Security Council at the open session. It began with a video produced by one of the NGOs in attendance about the current status of refugee children’s lives and education in Africa. Then, we heard from two Sudanese teenagers, who live in a refugee camp in the northern part of Ethiopia. Each one expressed the importance of his/her education and provided recommendations for how to improve educational situations for refugee children. These recommendations included providing adequate learning materials and better, more immediate access to education for refugee children so they do not fall behind in their studies.

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The African Union’s Peace and Security Council Meeting on August 9th, 2016

Representatives from the various international organizations and AU member countries made statements in support of refugee children’s education. Their messages were all fairly similar. First, each one expressed their continued commitment to efforts for providing and improving the education of refugee children, and second, was the urgent need to look beyond frameworks and policies to action steps to create real change. Many of them mentioned things likes the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063, with which I am already familiar. However, many of them also mentioned other documents and events specifically about refugee education, which I did not know much about, so I had a lot to Google when I returned to the office. Some of these included the following:

I was delighted to hear so many representatives pushing for more action going forward, rather than the creation of more policies and frameworks. There are already a number of these documents…now it is crucial that organizations and governments make better use of them. Focal areas going forward include ensuring that schools are protected in conflict areas, reinforcing national education management systems so as to include refugee children in mainstream education, increasing funding for refugee education, and ensuring that all education systems are non-discriminatory and accessible to all. At the end of the open session, the chairperson called for a continued commitment on the part of all organizations to advocate for refugee children’s education.

Many individuals also noted that the themes and recommendations from the session should be brought up at the High-Level Meeting to Address Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants meeting as well. This open session served only as the beginning of a long-term commitment to addressing the needs of refugee children and their educational opportunities.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

I don’t know anything about this Pokémon Go phenomenon that’s happening, except that I think people walk around, stare at their phones waiting for Pokémon to pop up on the screen, and somehow catch them? The slogan is “Gotta catch ‘em all,” right?

The amount I know about Pokémon Go is probably equivalent to my knowledge of networking. This, if you know me at all, is not one of my strong suits. I am still learning how to make small talk and I am fairly quiet in new situations with new people.

Well, since starting my internship only three weeks ago, I have already had a number of opportunities for networking. Every time I meet someone new, I get handed another business card…maybe business cards are the Pokémon of the professional worldGotta catch ‘em all! Catching them all, however, means being able to put myself out there when the opportunity arises.

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Gotta catch all those business cards!

My first opportunity came at the PHEI Conference two weeks ago. During the first tea break, a group picture with everyone at the conference was scheduled. Since the Director, a Program Manager, and one of the other interns from my organization were all in the picture, I opted to snap a couple shots instead of being in them. The minute the picture-taking session was over, one gentlemen from the U.S. Embassy came over, business card in hand, and asked me to send him the photo via e-mail. Not thirty seconds later, one of the main moderators of the conference did the same thing. “Sure, no problem,” I said. E-mails are easy, they give me time to read and reread the message, ensuring a professional tone and zero typos…and no small talk.

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Group photo I took at the PHEI Conference

Later in the day, I learned that the moderator, who had asked for the picture, was a Penn alum! I had no idea. So, I told myself, “You will formally introduce yourself to him. It’s a good opportunity and how hard could it be? You have something in common to talk about!” I mustered up the courage after a second or two, walked up to him, and we had a pleasant conversation. When I returned the next day, I greeted him and he thanked me for sharing the pictures via e-mail the previous evening. The conversation was easy and friendly. Am I networking? Is this how it works? Maybe it is not so bad.

The second opportunity came during one of the discussion sessions of the conference, during which whomever was speaking would appear on the screen in the front of the conference hall. One individual who asked a question introduced himself as a Kenyan who is currently a professor at a private HEI in Tanzania. In that moment, I told myself I had to speak to him! I wanted a chance to practice my Kiswahili…and learn more about his experiences working in private higher education, of course.

At lunch, I finally had my chance! I sat at a table with my fellow intern, the man from the US Embassy, and his intern. Then, lo and behold, who else happened to sit at that table but this professor! So, I turned to him, told him I saw him in the last session, and confirmed that he is from Kenya and teaching in Tanzania. When he said yes, I began speaking in Kiswahili and the joy was immediately evident on both of our faces. We spoke for a while about his life and journey through the education system in Kenya. At the end of our conversation, I gave him my e-mail address. I’m not sure in what capacity we could be colleagues in the future, but it was another small victory in my attempt to become more comfortable making connections with people in a professional way. When I returned to work the next day, I found an e-mail from him in my inbox, telling me how nice it was to meet me, hoping we would cross paths again in the future.

As I sit here writing this now, I also realize that e-mails are a great way to established a connection beyond a business card – there is now tangible evidence of our interaction, which will hopefully make me more memorable if I do reach out to one of these individuals in the future.

That Friday, the man from the U.S. Embassy, his intern, and one of their other colleagues came to visit our office. I was sitting at my desk when the director of our organization brought them to our door. We exchanged “hellos” and “how are yous.” The other colleague, whom I had not met yet, introduced himself and handed me – you guessed it — his business card. The next thing I knew, our director invited my fellow intern and I to join them for lunch. What a great opportunity for “just an intern.” Is this what business lunches are like? We headed to the cafeteria and I listen attentively as the embassy employees and our director exchanged project ideas, discussed possible future collaborations, and planned future meetings together.

At some point, someone from the embassy suggested they should return the favor and invited us to visit them there. So, last Monday I sent an e-mail to the intern who promised to set something up. Last Wednesday, after a few e-mail exchanges, I arrived at the gates of the embassy . I have never been in an embassy before but it was very interesting. The intern and I had lunch while he explained all of the organizations and work that is done there. Then, we walked around the compound as he explained more about the work he does and hopes to do in the future, continuing to work in foreign affairs. It was a great way to spend the mid-afternoon and it would not have happened without all the previous connections I had made at the conference and during their visit to our office.

Three weeks in and I have already learned a lot of good lessons about networking. I just gotta go for it…make a game out of getting business cards if I have to: “Business Cards Go”…. “Networking Go”…. “Connections Go”….doesn’t quite have the same ring to it but I’m still gonna “catch ‘em all.”

I feel like maybe I’m getting the hang of this networking thing. I’ve met a lot of people and been handed a lot of business cards and e-mail addresses. They may not all be professionals in the exact field or area that I am most interested in but those connections may lead to others. It is the opportunity to practice networking skills that makes it easier each time and I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given. One day I will get THE business card that will change my life and I will have to be willing to go for it…I haven’t caught my “Pikachu” (that’s the popular one that everyone likes, right?) yet, but I will not let any opportunity that might be it, pass me by.

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Pikachu, a popular Pokemon…I think?

A Little Shorter this Time?

Anyone that knows me knows that brevity in not my strong suit when it comes to writing. A lot of my year in graduate school was spent trying desperately to cut the length of my assignments (sometimes in half!!) to be under the word limit without sacrificing quality. I like to think that by the end of the school year, I had managed to gain some skills needed for being a concise writer. One of our professors often told us that writing in a concise manner was often more effective – we should always aim for quality over quantity.

In our first semester, we had to write a concept note, which could not be longer than two pages; a concept note which had to explain and relay an entire project, including its context and rationale, goals and objectives, activities and strategies, expected results, and the background of the organization that would be conducting the project. This was quite a task for me. I’m sure that I started out with at least a four-page document in my first draft. Editing for length and content took days. How could I be sure that what I was writing, given its short length, would be clear and convey every detail I wanted??

This theme of short and effective writing continued throughout the rest of the year. While our policy brief paper for our capstone had to be a bit longer (still only about 5,000 words), we often talked about the standard structure of a 2-page policy brief, which has to include several components: an introduction, background and rationale, extensive research and relevant policies, challenges, a conclusion, and recommendations. It is a lot for 2-pages, at least in my mind.

Well, it turns out that the skills used on writing these short but informative documents would come in handy when the first assignment for my internship crossed my desk. The organization I intern for focuses on teacher education development. Over the years, a number of books have been published regarding different aspects of teacher development: improving teacher quality, how to recruit and support teachers in rural areas, the importance of indigenous early childhood education, etc. All six of these books are around 100 pages long and it was my job to make each one into a 2-page policy brief. So, I got to work and crossed my fingers in hopes that the practice I had from my schoolwork would come in handy.

The first draft of my first brief came out to three and a half pages. Oops. After a few edits, however, I was able to get it down to two. I sent it to my supervisor for approval and she had a few more suggestions for me to make it even better. I took her constructive suggestions and after one more edit, she liked what I had done. So, I continued with the others and found that it was easier to write each time. I stayed under the page limit for all of the other books. Am I learning to write more concisely?? Looks like it.

This was a great first assignment for me. I was able to work on something I knew I could do because of the skills I learned in school while I got settled in the rest of my work environment and routine. It may not be the most exciting work but I felt a sense of confidence in knowing what a policy brief is and how to create it (not to mention the research part was already done for me). It is exciting to see the ways in which what I learned in school matches up with my work here.

If internships are about learning to be better equipped for one’s profession, and I think they are, then I am already gaining skills left and right which will help me in the long run. Bring on some more policy briefs!

An Intern’s First Conference

The first week of work has already been busy and full of new experiences. On Tuesday and part of Wednesday, I attended a conference at the African Union Conference Center about Private Higher Education Institutions (PHEIs) in Africa. The theme for this year’s conference was: “The Role of Private High Education Institutions (PHEIs) in Sustainable Development.”

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The conference had two keynote speakers: Professor Olugbemiro Jegede (Former Secretary General, AAU) and Professor Damtew Teferra (Founding Director for the International Network for Higher Education in Africa, University KwaZulu, South Africa). Professor Jegede began the morning by discussing the role of private higher education in sustainable development. He noted, “Private institutions are here to stay so we must make sure they deliver.” He also provided a number of recommendations for PHEIs in order to move education and development forward including: reclaiming Africa through massive investments in youth, developing a culture of sustainability, and enhancing the carrying capacity of all universities, especially private ones. Next, Professor Teferra explained what he called “blue prints in the realm of higher education,” which focused on the critical role higher education plays in development and the importance of developing a greater research capacity within higher education institutions.

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Professor Jegede’s presentation: The Role of Private Higher Education Sustainable Development
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The opening slide for Professor Teferra’s presentation: Unpacking the Development Blue Prints in the Realm of (Private) Higher Education

Throughout the conference, a number of presenters and panelist came back to an important message: “Education is key to development.” More specifically, and in line with the theme of the conference, many noted the role that private higher education will play in that development, which should be sustainable. The Minister of Education for Ethiopia, Honorable Mr. Shiferaw Shigute, said, “The Sustainable Development Goals will not be realized without support from private institutions.” While many agreed on this point, others also explained that higher education is not well represented within the SDGs. For example, “university” is only mentioned once in Goal 4.3 and “higher education” is mentioned once in Goal 4.b in regards to scholarship availability (from Professor Teferra’s presentation; see photo below).

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Slide from Professor Teferra’s presentation showing the number of times certain words/phrases are used in the SDGs

Other ideas discussed throughout the conference included: the need for better teacher education and quality in higher education institutions, the challenges to providing quality private higher education, making PHEIs affordable and accessible to all, the need for collaboration among private and public institutions, gender equity in education, and the promotion of entrepreneurship.

The conversation throughout the conference was well balanced and thought provoking. There were a number of pros and cons discussed in each session. While many highlighted the innovation and autonomy of PHEIs, other recognized that this is not accessible to most of the population. Others highlighted that while students in PHEIs generally perform well, there is still a serious need to improve teachers’ continuous professional development  because teacher quality impacts student achievement. Another issue for many students who attend PHEIs is employment opportunities post graduation; for most graduates, those opportunities are few. A number of presenters called for a commitment to finding way to help create jobs for these individuals and provide them with life skills, which make them more employable.

At the end of the two-day conference, participating members came together to revise an action plan, which provided next steps for finding solutions to the challenges within PHEIs and renewed the participants’ commitment to continue working collaboratively toward more sustainable higher education in Africa.

You can read more about private higher education in Africa here.
Find out more about The United Nation’s Higher Education Sustainability Initiative here.
Also worth reading: The Economist —“The world is going to university – Is it worth it?” 

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The African Union
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The conference room where we met on Tuesday and Wednesday

Falling into Place

It feels like everything is coming together nicely. My previous experience as a teacher in Tanzania, my coursework and educational experiences in IEDP at Penn (learn more about the program here), and my internship will all add up to a very rich experience over the next three months.

This morning I met with my supervisor to discuss my work and life here in Addis. I am grateful to be working in an organization that focuses on teacher education and curriculum, areas on which I focused a lot of my master’s studies. Much of my Terms of Reference (TOR) focuses on teacher education and professional development. This excites me because I have been researching these topics for months in order to write my policy brief: Teachers as Lifelong Learners: Improving Teacher Education in Tanzania. Additionally, in my Curriculum and Pedagogy in International Contexts course, I gained some practical experience writing a curriculum resource guide about peace education for teachers in Sub-Saharan Africa along with four of my classmates.

During my conversation with my supervisor, Serena (named changed), we discussed the need to conduct research on the current policies within teacher education and professional development to see what we think is missing or needs improvement. We will likely put together a document about teacher policies that will be available to teachers and education professionals to inform their practices. The organization has already put together a number of booklets regarding various topics within education and this will be the seventh in the series.

In order to better get acquainted with the work they do, I am spending today looking through these booklets. A lot of the issues discussed within them are the same as or related to many of the things we have spoken about in my courses. These topics include:

  • Challenges of teaching and being a teacher in urban vs. rural areas
  • Teacher preparation and quality
  • Quantity vs. quality of education
  • Early Childhood Care and Education
  • Need for education with a particular focus on context and culture
  • Teacher training vs. teacher education

Additionally, these booklets used global education frameworks and policies (which we talked about extensively in my Policy Planning course) to inform their perspectives and strategies, such as the Education for All goals and Millennium Development Goals (which were updated and revised last September and are now called the Sustainable Development Goals). I will be interested to see how connections continue to come up as a lot of my coursework in the spring focused on policy planning, teacher education, and curriculum design. It’s really nice to recognize some of the key issues, strategies, and recommendations in these booklets.

After learning about all of these things in my courses and reading about them in the organization’s booklets, I am so ready and very excited to begin putting all of this knowledge into practice!

Tomorrow we’re off to a conference about higher education…a blog will follow shortly, I’m sure.

I’m here!

Well, I arrived in Addis Ababa less than 48 hours ago and I am already at work! It’s not officially my first day, which will be on Monday, but I wanted to come and get a feel for the office and get my ID and work computer. Makes me feel very official!

I arrived at the office early in the morning. The compound is quite large and has a number of large buildings with offices, conference halls, and cafeterias. My classmate and fellow intern and I made our way to where our organization is located and I quickly got settled in the office that we are going to share.

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Our office! 

It has been really nice beginning to meet people whom I have e-mailed with several times since confirming my internship in late-February/early-March. It’s wonderful to put faces to names and finally be here after talking about it with my professors, classmates, friends, and family for so long!

From what I gathered, there is a lot of collaboration and everyone is eager to help one another out with various tasks and responsibilities. I am excited to see what work is ahead of me, especially in terms of working on projects concerning teacher education and professional development, which is one area of education that greatly interests me.

It’s also nice to be back in East Africa. Ethiopia is quite different from where I was in Tanzania in terms of culture, food, language – well, everything really — but I think being in the same region has led to some comfort in my first days here. I have not been able to venture out into the city itself quite yet. I am hoping that this weekend will lend itself to some of that. I am very excited to learn more about Ethiopia in the coming weeks.

I’ve realized that learning Amharic, the official language, will not be easy! It uses a very different set of characters than English and Kiswahili. Luckily for me, English is the main language at work and even in the city of Addis Ababa it is easy to find people who speak English. I would like, however, to learn some things in the next three months. It is important to me to invest in the place and culture into which I have already been so warmly welcomed. We’ll see how it goes!

As I was typing this blog I was interrupted for my first work related assignment! It took only a few minutes to do it, helping to edit an update for the organization’s website, but I was glad to be asked to help already! I think I will really enjoying working here and I will definitely learn a lot from the people around me. Can’t wait for my first real, full day on Monday!

In my next blog, look for insights about work and the city of Addis!