Learning about education with a South African lens
Saybrook University alumna Carolyn Burns, TCSPP faculty member Dr. Kelly Torres, TCSPP instructional designer and adjunct professor Dr. Lord Giddie, and international liaison officer Kari Prince decided to come together to do something unique for the Educational Psychology and Technology Ed.D. program.
With Burns’ affiliation as the founder and manager of Ukulapha Community Outreach, a South African community outreach organization, an educational trip to South Africa transitioned from an idea to a firm plan.
Dr. Kelly Torres
“We were very fortunate to be able to partner with Ukulapha Community Outreach and Slangspruit Primary School in South Africa for our study abroad program,” says Dr. Torres. “When we initially met with our South African stakeholders, they were very passionate about the work that they were doing in the Slangspruit community, and were very excited for the opportunity for our program and students to be a part of it.
“I also felt inspired by their work. The educators at this school are truly awe-inspiring in what they are able to accomplish each day in classrooms that have approximately 45 students and limited resources.”
Approximately one year after meeting regularly with stakeholders, a long-term partnership was born and Drs. Giddie and Torres co-designed the course.
“The EPT program at TCSPP does not usually include field experiences, internship requirements, or practicum courses,” Dr. Torres says. “So this study abroad experience was particularly important for students because it provided them with valuable service learning opportunities to apply course concepts to real-world settings.”
Getting out into the international field
The EPT program focuses on educating students to be practitioners who apply educational and psychological theories to practice and conduct research to inform practice. By the end of the program, graduates understand how people and organizations learn, use appropriate technology to improve individual learning outcomes, and support organizational productivity and sustainability.
Kelly Torres (in white sweater) with Slangspruit Primary School administrators
In this course, titled “Power of One: South Africa IS610,” the goal for students was to have an in-depth understanding of South African cultural, educational, and political practices and beliefs.
Even with 16 years in the field of public education for Grades K-12, TCSPP student Inaya Jaafar still felt like she could learn something new from the experience.
“I particularly enjoyed learning about how culture plays a role in education,” says Jaafar. “For example, the Zulu culture is a collectivist culture. They look after one another and do things collectively as a group. You feel like the teachers work and operate together as a family to get things done.
“Student academic success is dependent on so many internal factors within the student, but the most important external factors are the school, home, and direct community that all work together for the child to thrive in any environment. Similar to the collectivist culture of South Africa, I grew up in a predominantly immigrant community and people gravitated toward one another and built a community, even if you didn’t come from the same place. That does not happen nearly as much anymore, and it’s partly due to the fact that we now live in a more individualistic society.”
Adding work into their educational play
Some of the social excursions during the 10-day trip included a safari and wildlife tour at Nambithi Game Reserve, a communal dinner with members of the Ukulapha Board and other local Zulu attendees, a Karkloof Canopy tour, and a half-day tour of Pietermaritzburg. Academic activities included an excursion to Ethembeni HIV & AIDS Ministry where members discussed the HIV/AIDS crisis, teacher training with Slangspruit, craft activities with children in Grades 1-3, and a discussion forum with post-graduate psychology students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Psychology Department.
And students were able to test out their educational and professional backgrounds with their peers by participating in mini-workshops to parents of pupils and teachers.
The first workshop focused on Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Students created an assessment tool for educators to use to identify ADD and ADHD, and create classroom intervention strategies and behavior modification techniques.
“Instructors met us with enthusiasm and an openness to accept the ideas and information we were presenting, humbly reflect on their own practices, and share how they were going to implement new strategies and techniques,” says Jaafar. “We would come in the following day and an educator would stop our team members and say ‘I tried what you suggested today. Our students were indeed more engaged.’”
The second workshop involved role playing to increase student engagement, and motivate positive reinforcement.
In the third workshop, technology integration was the goal. The group was aware that there would be limited resources at the school and technology only available in the computer lab. As a result, students used the Bring Your Own Device model for their educational technology workshop activities. Due to a lack of copiers and printers while overseas, students would regularly write out all documents and necessary information each day.
“The available resources and opportunities for students from different communities were without a doubt significantly different,” says Jaafar. “Teachers shouldered the weight of having very limited resources for their students. But what’s fascinating is that they continued to have a smile on their faces and have plenty of love to give their students.”