Commentary: Talking education, equity with the Mandela Fellowship

This summer, Rodel hosted a visit from the Mandela Washington Fellowship. The Mandela Washington Fellowship started in 2014, and is the base program of the Young African Leaders Initiative that empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking.

The fellowship recognizes young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa between the ages of 25 and 35 and provides them with the opportunity to sharpen their skills at a U.S university with support for professional development after they return home. Within the group were lawyers, teachers, community leaders, and people from numerous African nonprofit groups.

The Rodel team shared information about the U.S. and Delaware education systems, and showed examples of Rodel’s work in such areas as career pathways and updating the education funding system.

I participated as a Rodel intern and helped share my experience as a Delaware student.

The Mandela Fellows were curious about and wanted to learn more about a number of topics, including:

Civics education

Gender equality within the education system

Funding and policies to support STEM subjects

Early childhood education

Helping students who fall behind in school

Preventing dropouts

Homelessness

Funding for nonprofits and public institutions

Two topics stood out where there were interesting similarities and differences between Mandela Fellows’ home countries and Delaware:

School governance and equal access to education: Many shared that in their countries, many disadvantaged students lack access to quality education.

In Ghana, one fellow mentioned, all of the good private schools are clustered in one geographical area. Others described tension between private and public education in their home countries. Rodel shared that in Delaware, equitable access to opportunities is still a challenge. The fellows were fascinated by the fact that our education system is designed for every students to have guaranteed access to public education as well as a multitude of different options such as traditional district schools, charter schools, and vo-tech schools.

I shared my experiences from Freire Charter School and a little about why I chose to attend. I liked that Freire was designed solely to prepare students for college. Freire also valued safety, creating a nonviolent environment that made it safe for students to learn without worrying about fights or other altercations. School leaders also gave us opportunities to affect change in our school and get involved with how it runs.

College and career pathways: Many of the Mandela Fellows told stories about challenges connecting education to career and business. For instance, one shared how students are graduating from colleges but are still not prepared to be successful in the work field.

They are not equipped with the necessities businesses are looking for. In result, some of these students are left behind in streets jobless after completing 25 years in school.

The group was excited to hear about Delaware’s career pathways efforts, where students can get experience in high-needs fields prior to their college experience and decide on the right fit for them. I also shared that in my experience, Freire equipped me with all the tools I needed to take on college. I was offered dual enrollment college-level classes, AP courses, visits from college reps, biweekly college counselor meetings, college tours, life skills and public speaking training, and other ways to get prepared for the world after high school.

The group was excited to hear about the success Freire had with their college acceptance rate among seniors and the systems that were implemented such as student voice and nonviolence.

Overall, I learned about the education system and some of the challenges that students are facing in Africa. At the same time, I was very pleased to see such a passionate group of young adults who are devoted to fixing those same challenges.

Savio Stuart is an intern with the Rodel Foundation, a nonprofit organization that partners with Delawareans and educational innovators from around the world to “transform public education in the First State.”

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