Focus on Education in the Developing World

Warner Professor Heads Education Sector of the Millennium Villages Project

Calf in UgandaWhile driving along country roads of sub-Saharan Africa, where poor school enrollment, high child mortality, and illiteracy are rampant in the area, David Hursh was astounded by the number of four- to five-year-old children walking miles to school each day on busy dirt roads—with no shoes.

“There’s no transportation so the only way to get to school is to walk,” explains Hursh, associate professor in teaching and curriculum at the Warner School of Education. “The persistence you need just to show up at school amazes me.”

Despite coming from a vastly different world, Hursh has long been concerned about the health and education of children in developing countries. Most recently, these concerns led Hursh to address these issues this fall at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, a research institute that focuses on studying and creating solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems, and in the developing world, when he was given the chance of a lifetime to work for the Earth Institute as a visiting research scholar.

David HurshHursh, who is on partial leave from Warner, currently directs the education sector of the Millennium Villages Project, an initiative organized by the Earth Institute, which employs nearly 1,000 people, and the United Nations Development Program. The Project works in 14 sites in 10 sub-Saharan countries to lift rural African communities out of extreme poverty while also improving education, health, gender equality, and environmental sustainability. In his new role, Hursh has been charged with transforming education in K-12 schools in the Millennium Villages.

Up and running for about five years, the education sector of the Project has focused on structural improvements, such as construction of school infrastructure, provision of meals, water and electricity supply, sensitization on school participation for girl learners, and monitoring of pupil and teacher attendance. The second phase of the Project will focus on improving primary school quality, increasing rates of primary school completion, and improving enrollment in secondary schools.

Hursh, who is under contract through June 2012 and is currently negotiating either a full- or part-time extension, says that he’s trying to impact what takes place in schools in terms of curriculum and pedagogy, and with all of the ongoing environmental and health concerns, he’s hoping to improve the lives of people in developing countries through education.

Looking ahead, Hursh knows that he has his work cut out for him, but he realizes that he can’t tackle this alone.

“If we want something that is sustainable, we need to connect the schools with universities,” he says.

School-University Collaboration
During his most recent trip to Kenya and Uganda in December, Hursh discovered the power of collaboration to reform education and make real change. He was soon communicating regularly with educators at schools and universities, like the University of Nairobi and Kampala University, working with them to look at issues around education for environmental health and sustainability.

So far, he’s been successful at helping others to understand the value of collaborating on curriculum around environmental health and environmental sustainability that will not only improve the quality of education in K-12 schools but also in the research universities that are creating useful knowledge for schools and the community.

Hursh and his team at the Earth Institute are trying to create school-university models that can be reproduced in other developing countries to improve the national curriculum and overall quality of education for children.

“Doing work and connecting universities with schools and developing models for the country could make the change, and that’s what the Earth Institute gives me a chance to do,” he adds. “It allows me the opportunity to develop models that can make an impact and that can be replicated and influence other models.”

With Uganda and Kenya being neighboring countries, Hursh will focus on these two areas initially. Simultaneously, he will focus on making new connections and forming school-university partnerships in other sub-Sahara African countries so that these models can eventually be carried over into new countries as well.

Classroom Technology
In addition to improving the national curriculum, the Project aims to tap into the power of technology to ensure that schools in developing countries have access to the best teaching and research resources available. 

In his recent endeavor to Kenya and Uganda, Hursh met with faculty from the University of Nairobi and Kampala University to discuss ways to support the Project, and ultimately improve the quality of education at schools, through the use of technology.

One way to accomplish this, he says, is to use technology in creative and thoughtful ways to help teachers implement a curriculum on environmental sustainability.

“Besides using technology to access the Internet and other resources, we want schools to connect with other schools in Africa and around the world,” explains Hursh, who has developed a partnership with the Connect to Learn Project, an Earth Institute initiative that receives support from Ericsson Technology and uses Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to connect classrooms and improve access to quality educational resources around the world. “We’re trying to get people to use new technologies to communicate beyond their classroom, so we should also be doing this at the university level—communicating both with the schools and with other universities.”

According to Hursh, both of the universities he is working with in Africa are eager to learn how to best implement technology in K-12 schools and collaborate on improving pre-service and in-service teacher education through the use of technology and more innovative online curriculum resources.

Hursh’s plans also entail getting K-12 schools and universities to do collaborative action research to assess the implementation of technology in schools as a way to identify what the needs are, what teachers know about computers, and best practices for teacher training around technology.

Community Connection
The Millennium Villages Project’s efforts extend beyond classroom walls to improving the overall community. In addition to creating and promoting new ways of learning in schools, Hursh is trying to pinpoint new ways of learning in the community.

He hopes to change what goes on in schools so that it connects with the community and helps to accomplish all of the goals of the Millennium Villages Project—not just the goals of the education sector, but the goals of substantially improving the lives of people in the country.

“It’s not just about changing the curricula in schools,” Hursh says. “It’s trying to figure out how to connect schools with the community, so that local people who have expertise around health, solar voltaic systems and energy, or harvesting systems can lend their knowledge to schools. These experts and teachers can then integrate what they know into the curriculum, and at the same time students can produce work that they can share with the community.”

One example of this may be having children educate the community about the health dangers of smoke inhalation when cooking over wood fire

“We need to rethink what schools do and their role in the community, and we need support from the community,” he adds. “Education can occur both formally in schools and informally in the community, so it’s trying to figure out what that looks like."

Graduate Student Experience
While leading the education sector of the Millennium Villages Project, Hursh also serves as head of education for the Earth Institute’s Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development and as an adjunct associate professor in the School of International Public Affairs at Columbia University, where he currently teaches a course on education for sustainable development.

Some of the students in Hursh’s course are spending this spring semester preparing for a 12-week summer internship that will take place in a village/cluster in the Millennium Villages or another developing country, giving them a chance to address real-life issues around education. 

Hursh says that his goal is to get students to help change what goes on in schools.

“During the spring semester course, I will be working with master’s students from the School of International Public Affairs to plan out what they are going to do before they leave for their internships,” says Hursh, “and then I’ll go overseas to check on their progress during the summer.

Hursh hopes to work with a handful of students who want to focus on issues around curriculum and pedagogy—such as helping teachers implement a curriculum on environmental sustainability or helping teachers to use technology in creative and thoughtful ways—that align with his goals for improving education in the Millennium Villages.

Once students return from their summer internships, he will then work with them to create a portfolio of case studies, where students will be asked to write about their experiences and what they’ve accomplished.

He says that students haven’t been asked to do this in the past. “It will give future interns an idea of what’s been done at different sites and what’s been accomplished, so that they can build on previous work and avoid duplicating work that’s already been done,” Hursh adds. “Essentially, this will help to make real change beyond just what students accomplish over the 12 weeks during any given summer.”

Hursh is looking to connect others from the University of Rochester with the Millennium Villages Project on opportunities such as research, internships, and filmmaking. Graduate and undergraduate students, who want to become involved with developing countries, are encouraged to contact Hursh at dhursh@Warner.Rochester.edu.

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Media Contact: Theresa Danylak
(585) 275-0777; (585) 278-6273 (cell)

Tags: Africa, David Hursh, Earth Institute, environmental health, environmental sustainability, Millennium Villages Project, teacher preparation, teaching and curriculum