Inside USD

Interdisciplinary Approach to Ghana’s Education Future

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

If knowledge is power, then what’s the potential when a project — examining best-practice solutions for sustainable student learning at low-cost private schools in Ghana — is aided by the perspectives of USD’s schools tied to leadership/education, business and peace?

Nine USD students and faculty members, Joi Spencer and Patricia Marquez, conducted a two-week consulting project in Kasoa, Ghana in January. The trip, featuring graduate students from the School of Leadership and Education Sciences (SOLES), School of Business Administration (SBA) and the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies (KSPS), was done to assist an organization dedicated to educating youth in developing countries.

The USD students observed, collected data, and met students, teachers, community members and school leaders. They presented recommendations to Edify, an organization that provides small business loans and training to low-cost sustainable Christian schools in Ghana, Rwanda and the Dominican Republic. Schools that had received low-interest loans from Sinapi Aba Trust and the Omega Schools, which has a partnership with SOLES’ Global Center, were the ones the USD group visited.

Spencer, an assistant professor in SOLES, and four students from SOLES’ innovative Teaching Studio program visited several schools to observe teachers and their teaching methods, provide cost-effective and sustainable resources and conduct a professional development training experience for teachers.

“A teacher is someone who facilitates learning,” Spencer said. “That’s how I check my own teaching. Did the students learn? Learning is complex, but learning happens when there’s something new. Students have to grapple with it, engage in some kind of activity that resolves their confusion and do it in a way that doesn’t just give away the information.”

“Teachers are preparing students to inhabit the 21st century, but we’re not living in a knowledge-based era,” Spencer continued. “The days of teaching just for knowledge are over. It’s time to think and to problem solve. There needs to be a model for getting students there. Teachers need to see what it would look like to teach in these ways.”

She further reflected on her Ghana experience in a Teaching Studio blog post.

The development training experience was the pre-trip idea of Nathaniel Dunigan, a Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership who is earning his PhD in Leadership Studies at SOLES. The topics, taught by the SOLES students, were on human development, nutrition, character development, and math and language arts.

“Each one had their area of development so we put together a 40-minute workshop based on our research and how our knowledge could address specific needs,” Dunigan said. “But we purposely did the training at the end of the trip so we would have the whole time to adjust our presentations to match what we were seeing in the classrooms.”

Marquez (pictured, at left), assistant professor of management in the SBA and director of USD’s Center for Peace and Commerce, brought four MBA students. Her students researched, analyzed and identified suggestions for Edify to increase lending opportunities and increase business development, thus “investing in transformation,” as their presentation was named.

Edify administration, including President/CEO Christopher Crane, were on the trip, too, and their aspirations and actions definitely inspired the business students as they conducted their work.

Jessica Bonin Critchlow ’07 (BBA), an evening MBA student, said her experience in Ghana and learning more about Edify’s approach to its business validated why she chose to get her MBA at USD.

“What I love about the MBA program here is that it’s been an intersection between business, social justice, poverty alleviation and social entrepreneurship,” she said. “There are great people in business who want to do great things, but there are those who have corporate responsibility or a socially inclusive business. They care about making a profit, but it’s done in a way that’s helping others and is mutually beneficial. That’s what is amazing about Edify and the work they do in Ghana. Business can make a difference and it includes the poor and it’s a mutually beneficial win-win.”

John Patterson (top photo), a KSPS Master’s Peace and Justice Studies student, sought a hands-on experience that would impact him in his study emphasis of development and human security.

“Education is an essential component of the development process. I’ve focused some of my studies on the effects of education on violence and have found that many studies indicate it isn’t merely access, but quality of content that is the key to making education a force for peace,” he said. “Edify seeks to provide that quality education at low costs that are affordable, even for the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.”

Patterson continued: “I witnessed firsthand the challenges of making large macro-level development goals such as expanding educational access a reality at the grassroots level. It was an invaluable experience that exposed me to the nuts and bolts problem-solving that lies behind classroom theory. Working closely with business and education students I could apply the ideas of multi-disciplinary problem-solving, which is the hallmark of the peace studies field.”

USD faculty and administrators are now working on their next steps. SOLES Dean Paula Cordeiro, who visited the Ghana schools last summer and is a new board member for Edify, has focused her efforts on school leadership and what leaders can do to sustain their schools. She is scheduled to return to Ghana this summer, along with Spencer, to attend and give a presentation at the 56th annual International Council on Education World Assembly at the University of Cape Coast, July 10-12.

— Ryan T. Blystone

Photos courtesy of SOLES and School of Business Administration

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