What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
AfricAid founder, Ashley Shuyler, has lived and taught in Tanzania for months at a time since 2005. Through focus group discussions with students and teachers, it became clear to her that Tanzanian students were learning primarily through rote memorization in the classroom, and that most of what they learned was not applicable to their future professional efforts. As a result, Ms. Shuyler initiated conversations with Professor Frances Vavrus from Columbia Teachers College, who had spent years conducting research in Tanzania, and who spent the 2006-2007 year as a Fulbright Scholar there. Dr. Vavrus’ extensive research with Tanzanian educators had led her to believe that reform within the Tanzanian education system must start with teachers. Dr. Vavrus therefore partnered with the faculty at Mwenge University College of Education, Tanzania’s most progressive teacher training college, in order to develop the materials needed to instruct Tanzanian teachers in the use of student-centered methods – methods that would ultimately lead students to develop vital critical thinking skills. Together, they developed concrete case studies, activities, and methods that would help teachers understand how to use a balance of student-centered and lecture-based methods in the context of Tanzanian classrooms – classrooms that are often overcrowded and without teaching and learning resources. Through a subsequent partnership with AfricAid, Dr. Vavrus and the Mwenge facultly were able to successfully implement the first year of the TIA program in 2007.
Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.
There are three true social innovators behind this idea. The first is Professor Frances Vavrus, who served as a faculty member at Teachers College, Columbia University for eight years and recently joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Educational Policy and Administration. Dr. Vavrus’ longitudinal ethnographic research focuses on the Kilimanjaro Region of northern Tanzania, where she has intermittently lived, taught, and studied since 1992. During the 2006-2007 school year, Dr. Vavrus was a Fulbright Scholar at Mwenge University College of Education (MWUCE) in Tanzania. She has written dozens of articles and chapters, and is the author of the book, Desire and Decline: Schooling amid crisis in Tanzania.
The second social innovator behind TIA is Joachim Msaki, former Principal of MWUCE. While at MWUCE, Dr. Msaki expanded the student body from just a few dozen students to over 200 students, while maintaining MWUCE’s reputation as a center for excellence in teacher training. Dr. Msaki worked with Dr. Vavrus to design and implement the first TIA workshop, and has ensured the program’s continuation at MWUCE in subsequent years.
The third social innovator in this project is Ashley Shuyler, founder of AfricAid. After a trip to Tanzania in 1996 at age 11, Ms. Shuyler founded AfricAid five years later in order to support girls’ education there. Because of her extensive research in Tanzania, Ms. Shuyler has led AfricAid to support those educational initiatives such as TIA that work to improve the quality of education offered to students on the continent.
How did you first hear about Changemakers?
Through a meeting with Ken Weil, who was formerly involved with Ashoka and Youth Venture.