COE Profs Participate in UN Briefing on Education

An effective education requires more than a top-down approach, two Lehigh education professors said last week at a United Nations panel discussion titled “NGO Partners and Resources: A Global Grassroots Approach to Education for All.”

Alexander W. Wiseman, associate professor of comparative and international education, moderated the panel and shared his work in international education, where he strives to provide opportunities for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to engage at the grass-roots level, most recently in Rwanda.

Lisa Damaschke-Deitrick, professor of practice of comparative and international education, also discussed a project she worked on in Germany that supports students of diverse backgrounds, including refugees.

It was the first time the College of Education led a briefing at the UN.

Wiseman addressed the challenges non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and education policymakers have in achieving the goals of Education for All movement.

Launched in 2000, Education for All is a UN initiative that seeks to provide quality education to children and adults throughout the world by marshaling the efforts of governments, development agencies, civil society and the private sector.

“Providing basic education for all is an ambitious goal,” Wiseman said. “And the challenges of reaching this goal are nowhere more evident than in the historically disenfranchised groups in every nation worldwide.”

A major contributing factor, Wiseman said, is that many organizations take top-down approaches to implementing educational access, equity and achievement.

Wiseman feels that some of these approaches have relied on politically driven coalitions that, while still important to global educational change, aren’t as effective in 21st century education movements.

“The Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda provides formal education to those most in need in post-genocide Rwanda,” Wiseman said, referring to the mass killings of Tutsi people in the African nation in 1994, “but the Youth Village provides so much more than a school education.”

The Youth Village mends the wounds of those in need in post-genocide Rwanda, by not only providing them with schooling and education, but by creating a safe space and sense of family for Rwandan youth who many times have lost their family in the genocide.

“By bringing Rwandans together to help other Rwandans, ASYV bridges across ethnic differences and creates opportunities both in and out of the formal school to provide inclusive and quality education for all Rwandans, with a special focus on those who are the most vulnerable,” Wiseman said.

The hands-on, grassroots approach offers formal and informal education, health and wellness, and healing by mending the world around them, referred to as ‘Tikkun Olam.’

Damaschke-Deitrick discussed a project she worked on in Germany, which seeks to bring education to students who have dropped out of school. Using a grassroots approach, she explained, the project is aimed at students from diverse backgrounds, including migrants and refugees. She said top-down approaches from the international level are not sustainable if they don’t look at the local context.

The European Union is striving to support vulnerable youth with inclusive education, Damaschke-Deitrick said, but it faces challenges despite its relative wealth compared to other areas of the world.

“The European Union identified dropout rates and incomplete graduation requirements as one main poverty and social exclusion threat for young people,” Damaschke-Deitrick said. “And that is why the EU wants to tackle these problems through education.”

Damaschke-Deitrick advised turning to local partners to identify needs and challenges for implementing solutions. Her own project is called Second Chance, which focuses on students ages 12-18.

“The project really aims at individual support of each dropped out student, whether the student needs language, social, psychological or family support or general consulting and coaching,” she said.

Damaschke-Deitrick called on different local organizations to create a targeted approach for each individual student, whether to provide extra support in classes or relevant work experiences at local businesses.

“On the local level, different groups are encouraged to work together on the project,” she said. “Those groups and individuals come from civil society, local welfare organizations, local churches or other NGOs in collaboration with local schools.”

Damaschke-Deitrick says the collaborating forces should be constantly in communication and work together to make this as local of an approach as possible.

Damaschke-Deitrick says this deviation from a simply top-down education system decentralizes the approach, makes it possible to recognize the specifics in local conditions and challenges, and easier for the project to adapt to student’s needs locally.

Wiseman mentioned Lehigh’s partnership with the UN. The university was just the sixth university in the world to be officially recognized as an NGO by the UN Department of Public Information.

“This is the first education briefing Lehigh has done at the UN, which is really exciting for all of us,” Wiseman said.

 Story by Henry Greenburg

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