Education Spanning a Continent
By Robert Schroeder
The African national leaders of today are pushing a unique model to educate the leaders of tomorrow.
National Louis University's James O'Meara, Ed.D., is taking part in this unique initiative to empower Africans to tackle their nations' problems. O'Meara is attending an African Union conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with a group of educational leaders tasked with forming a pan-African university system. O'Meara, the only international expert, is providing advice validating curricula, in particular the alignment between the university system's objectives and the goals and programs being formed.
"The key challenge is integration, just like with a strategic plan at NLU," O'Meara said. "There are generic attributes and outcomes they are hoping for all African graduates to demonstrate and characterize as part of this new academic, and it will be a unique contribution to the world."
The concept features five universities across Africa serving as centers of excellence. These centers would recruit the best and brightest across the continent to pursue master and doctoral-level education. Logistical questions are the main roadblocks, including transporting students to different locations, overcoming resource challenges like lack of computers or power supply, and dealing with tenuous political situations, but O'Meara says African Union leadership is calling this model the "second decade of education for Africa."
O'Meara is analyzing the traits and outcomes that all graduates will be expected to possess after their years in the university system and determining how these characteristics best fit into a university-wide curriculum. He is also examining performance standards to ensure alignment with curriculum. The ultimate goal is to strengthen the system's ability to build capacity and to advance the system's ability to contribute to global knowledge.
O'Meara brings depth of international curriculum-building experience to the project. Earlier this year, he traveled to Ibadan, Nigeria for an African Union project to evaluate curriculum alignment for the University of Ibidan. O'Meara has also is the director of research programs for the International Council on Education for Teaching, through which he has taken part in curriculum development in India and in other African nations. Since 2008, O'Meara has worked with an organization called Classroom Connections that advocates keeping young children in school. O'Meara's role connects him with UNESCO on a basic education program in African nations that develop classrooms that promote social and emotional well-being in an effort to retain enrollment.
As he continues to build upon his international experiences, O'Meara hopes to bring elements of the global classroom to National Louis. He envisions the development of partnerships with organizations and universities in African nations that students, faculty and alumni can connect with to develop greater understanding of the concepts of global citizenship.
"I've recently been reading [about] what's happening in the workplace in North America, and there's a need for international experience, and international collaboration is so hard," O'Meara said. "I hope to use the strategies, networks and connections I can build with this international approach and make it a significant identity of the National Louis community."