Can Higher Education Change Africa?

Pemba, future home(?) of a University for orphans in Mozambique

Many people go to Africa for missions, and it is easy to see how many professions can serve abroad. For example, business as mission is a powerful strategy to help locals provide for their families and build communities and learn about Jesus and His teachings in the process. Medical missions can provide support in overwhelmed areas and training for locals who can provide regular care to patients. Gifts of food are helpful too, but get impacted and diminished by corrupt officials. Farmers can educate locals about wise farming practices, and engineers can provide infrastructure such as clean water and products for the developing world that can help local economies and improve quality of life. But how can PhD’s in the ivory tower contribute their training to missions?

Sometimes God works through circumstances to move people to different places. The funding crunch in America and Europe has created substantial frustration in the academic job market, enough to make people seriously consider academic jobs in rising economies abroad. Some brave people have even gone to be professors in less-developed places — not because they’ll have access to unique samples for their research — but because they want to make a lasting impact in these other places, and are willing to sacrifice the prestige and resources they might have in America.

However, such a calling is not for everyone. Nonetheless, there are opportunities for academics in America and Europe to form partnerships with universities in other countries. Such partnerships can provide great opportunities for collaboration and/or cultural exchange, and conduits for people-to-people exchanges.

What is a people-to-people exchange?

People-to-people exchanges are perhaps the most cost-effective measure used by our government to promote positive relations and mutual understanding with other countries. The Peace Corps is perhaps the most famous, but there are other programs for professions such as science and engineering.

The State department is a big fan of such endeavors. Recently, regarding relationships between Burma and the U.S., the following statement was made: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/05/190226.htm

As the two governments strengthen their bilateral relationship, the United States seeks to build on its engagement with the people of Burma through increased people-to-people exchanges. More than 1,400 Burmese civil society members, young leaders, students, and journalists are alumni of U.S. government exchange programs.

Ok, so bringing people to the US helps other countries substantially. But these people-to-people exchanges work best when done both ways. People gain a greater understanding about other countries and how we can best help each other through actually going there and experiencing the culture. Also, these exchanges help build mutual trust and understanding, and importantly open doors for more people to travel through.

Partnerships with universities in other countries provide people in the US with something very important — channels for disseminating knowledge so it can have impact. Not only knowledge about scientific fields, but practical knowledge about how to educate the next generation of doctors, scientists, engineers, businessmen, etc. With the internet, barriers to finding knowledge online (if you know what to look for) are amazingly lower than in the past. However, the internet is no substitute for relationships and trust.

Many countries with rising economies and prominence have prominent American and European professors on their faculty as visiting professors. Visiting professors can provide unparalleled opportunities for growth and collaboration by bringing in new ideas and techniques to local universities. They can also bring home passion for important problems in developing countries, and provide opportunities for foreigners to come to the U.S. for part of their education.

The National Science Foundation *highly* regards scientific outreach to college and K-12 and the general public. Can such “scientific outreach” make a lasting impact in the poorest countries?

Iris Ministries is a missionary organization started by Rolland and Heidi Baker in 1980 that has started many orphanages and churches in Mozambique. Instead of reaching out to the educated people, they started reaching out to street children. Now they are interested in starting a University. Orphans that they picked up off the street have now come of age and are ready to change the world — and the thing they need most in order to do this is education.

A University for poor orphans? Yes!

For a long time, I have felt that education is needed more in Africa than a new drug cocktail to keep HIV at bay that people can’t afford. Soon after India emphasized education, they found themselves with a new middle class that then created a demand for better healthcare.

So, what does an organization known for orphanages need to start a university? Ten PhD’s to serve as faculty, in order to become accredited. I hear they have five already on board. But what more do they need? Partners at the top universities in the world who can help with curriculum development and/or serve as consultants, visiting professors, etc. To make this new university more able to equip the poor to change the world, they will need to not be intellectually isolated, but develop connections with academicians in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

Here at ReClaim we are forming an initial team to go to Mozambique and see how we might help and lead others to help in any way we can to get this “university for the poor” off the ground. Part of this will involve sharing our passions for our respective fields, and some ways of learning in these fields, and even resources for learning. Science and the social sciences are best learned by doing, so hopefully we can dream about what research might look like at such an institution. From our time there, we can then get the word out to attract additional international funding partners, and to attract other grad students to go serve there as adjunct instructors, guest lecturers, etc. If we can learn how to educate the poorest of the poor, maybe we’ll be better equipped to educate the poor in America.

What might learning at such a university look like? Well, with ultra-low-cost computers and electronics hardware such as One Laptop Per Child (http://one.laptop.org/), Raspberry Pi (http://www.raspberrypi.org/ ) , and Arduino ( http://www.arduino.cc/ ), it has never before been easier to teach about technology in the developing world.

What might come of this endeavor if it is successful?

Imagine graduates creating low-cost, high-tech solutions to problems in the developing world, and bolstering local economies with new inventions. Imagine future doctors trained to make the best of the resources they have to fight disease, treat patients, educate health care practioners, and raise public health awareness to combat infectious diseases and tropical diseases.

Besides being an adventure, we would get to be part of something bigger than publishing papers and padding our CV’s in the rat race to survive in the ivory tower.

But most of all, I think we who go would learn a whole lot about life in Mozambique and what God is doing there and how we can imitate the faith of the Mozambicans.

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