Out of UAlberta: Convocation ceremony goes to Africa

Officials travel to Tanzania to celebrate graduation of first-ever international cohort of educational studies master's students.

A dozen Tanzanian students who graduated with a University of Alberta master's degree couldn't travel to Edmonton to collect their parchment, so the university went to them.

Dean Heather Zwicker of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research and education professor of mathematics Elaine Simmt flew to Dodoma, Tanzania, to present the first cohort of international graduands from the U of A's Master of Education in Educational Studies (MES) with their parchments in-person at a ceremony at the University of Dodoma earlier today.

"It was important for us to attend and celebrate the moment these students realized their dream and became new people as a result of their education," said Zwicker. "We're proud of our multicultural student body and are always looking for ways to deliver education that meets students where they are."

The program, now in its 12th year, is offered through a combination of face-to-face and online instruction to students who can't live or attend university full-time in Edmonton. It has graduated students from around the province, Canada and now internationally, with new graduates poised for next year from Grande Prairie, Red Deer and Fort McMurray.

"Now there are 12 more people with MEd degrees in Tanzania who are brimming with more experience, an understanding of innovation in education and how to bring about organizational improvements," said Simmt.

Zwicker said Tanzania was an ideal fit for the program, funded by a $4.1-million grant from Global Affairs Canada in 2013, because of its long history with the U of A, shared educational values and commitment to education, and the clear need for teachers with master's degrees, teacher educators and educational leaders.

Teachers around the world face unique educational challenges: in Tanzania, some students may arrive late to class because they have to prepare food for their siblings. Others struggle to find success in lecture environments where teaching resources are limited to chalk and blackboard.

Now the MES graduates have the knowledge and skills needed to enact solutions for truancy issues, and to take on other local challenges such as gender inequality and exclusion that limit education in the East African country.

New graduate Illuminata Paschal said one insight she got from her MES experience was that school is a place for self-reflection and teacher professional learning.

"We used to think that teacher professional development could only take place through things like seminars and workshops. It has enabled us to focus on what brings teachers into active learning and how teachers can create a culture of continuous improvement [in school]," she said.

Another new graduate, Paul Majani, greatly valued the evidence-based research skills he developed.

"The knowledge of research acquired will enable me to conduct small education researches, which in turn will lead to improved teaching and learning processes, hence school improvement."

The successful delivery of MES internationally also establishes a capacity-building model that can be used in other countries, said Simmt.

"It is particularly useful in countries with geographically diverse and rural populations," she said.