Student Research on African Education

| November 10, 2017
Map of Africa by Eric Gaba (Sting - Sting) - https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5387989

Map of Africa by Eric Gaba (Sting – Sting) – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5387989

In the Spring 2017 issue of African Education in Focus, the newsletter of TC’s George Clement Bond Center for African Education (CAE), Dr. Naomi Moland named an issue “at the heart of international comparative education,” that “’education’ must be conceived of broadly– for example, understanding activism as a form of public pedagogy.” On October 25th, CAE convened a panel of five Masters Candidates in the International and Transcultural Studies Department who demonstrated just how expansive this sense of ‘education’ could be. The students presented on research, largely conducted over the summer, which explored education’s implementation and impacts for myriad demographics and contexts across the African continent.

Research on childhood education in particular illuminated the breadth of international involvement in African education. Through a fellowship with NGO Save the Children International (SCI), Kevin Nascimento interviewed caregivers and teachers to study implementation factors for Basic Education and Early Childhood Care and Development programs in Zambia’s Lufwanyama District. His findings underscored some of the pitfalls of international NGOs’ work- memorably, community members suspected a connection between SCI and Satanism. The organization takes pictures of each child in their programs- largely for fundraising purposes- and Nascimento hypothesized that this practice raised concerns, given a belief prevalent in the region that photographs take a piece of the subject’s soul. Nascimento also found that SCI’s emphasis on volunteerism raised questions about the future sustainability of programs, and that in general, the entire field of early childhood education would benefit from increased monitoring and study.

Jihae (Jay) Cha also conducted research in partnership with an international organization, although KEEP, a program to improve girls’ access to education, is a joint project of Canadian NGO WUSC and Kenyan NGO Windle International. Cha worked at KEEP’s site in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp to study the impact of remedial education on girls’ motivation and mental health. In addition to the trauma of displacement and the varied circumstances that bring people to the camps, girls are often saddled with additional caregiving responsibilities, and their education is less encouraged relative to their male counterparts. In response, KEEP targets low-performing girls for full-day classes outside of regular school hours. Unsurprisingly, the pilot stages of Cha’s research showed that the participants’ academic performance and personal motivation improved, and their teachers’ support and encouragement significantly boosted their psycho-social wellbeing. On a broader level, Cha commented on the scant attention paid to students’ subjective experiences in the numbers-oriented worlds of education funding and international aid.

In sharp contrast to the international projects, Iman Sebunya presented research on Senegal’s Daara, traditional educational institutions where boy students (Talibe) learn to memorize the Koran. Traditionally, Daara and their Talibe rely on the generosity of their community, with Talibe sometimes soliciting alms in public. Daara remain culturally significant and locally respected, but as they begin to operate in urban settings, the treatment of Talibe has garnered international scrutiny. Sebunya’s ongoing research looks to determine how Daara promote social cohesion, such as mutual assistance, social ties, and solidarity within the Daara and extended community, and to what extent that differs in urban versus rural contexts. Given the Zambians’ apprehension about SCI, and the precarity of life and social institutions in refugee camps, Sebunya’s research is likely to provide critical research and perspective on more traditional, locally-directed education.

The lines between local and international administration were less pronounced for Dramane Ouedraogo and Sarah Lewinger, whose research focused on adults. Ouedraogo, who was a school principal in Burkina Faso before coming to TC, is researching the impact of targeted civics and citizenship education on PTAs in the West African nation. After the slave trade and French colonization, Burkina Faso underwent several military coups and civil unrest, resulting in a state in which extrajudicial killings and other violence are common. In Ouedraogo’s words, “citizens’ beliefs are at odds with democratic values.” Relative to the U.S., PTAs in Burkina Faso have a more direct leadership role in schools, and for this reason, the Ministry of Human Rights has targeted them to promote multigenerational civics education. These efforts come from national government, but international aid and recognition often turn on compliance with international human rights law.

Photo of Ugandan Abstinence Campaign Poster taken in 2007. Jake Brewer / Flickr

Photo of Ugandan Abstinence Campaign Poster taken in 2007. Jake Brewer / Flickr

Lewinger’s research focused on women’s experiences with sex education in East Africa, primarily Uganda. Abstinence-only education has become prevalent in Uganda, largely because of U.S. policy. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), an American initiative to stop the spread of AIDS and fund treatment for people with the disease, has been the largest funder of abstinence and faithfulness-only education since 2004, placing sharp content restrictions on local programs pertaining to sexual health. The Global Gag Rule, a policy reinstated by President Trump that withholds U.S. funding to any organization that acknowledges abortion, has also dramatically impacted sex education in Uganda. Lewinger’s subjects, fifteen women between the ages of 18 and 30, had received a mix of abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education, in formal and informal settings. Her interviews with them revealed that misinformation regarding sex and reproductive health was rampant, and that while a slim majority had had premarital or extramarital sex, they felt significant shame about having done so.

In discussing their research, the students often spoke of “filling in the gaps,” building a richer and more comprehensive understanding of how education works in African contexts. As their work shows, those gaps are rarely limited to one geographic area; civics education in francophone Africa may offer insight into getting the U.S. “back on its democratic tracks,” as Sen. Bob Graham says, or research in Kenyan refugee camps may point to the possibilities of targeted education for all people facing trauma and long-term displacement. We have CAE and these students to thank for the many insights thus far.

For more information on the panelists or CAE, contact cae@tc.columbia.edu.

You can follow CAE on:
Facebook @ http://www.tc.edu/centers/cae
Twitter @ https://twitter.com/caeattc