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Making a difference in South Africa

From a primary school in South Africa to the classrooms of the College of Education at Lehigh, the vision of one alumnus has made a difference around the world.

“Peter Morales is the whole reason we are there,” says Alexander W. Wiseman, coordinator of the Comparative and International Education department and head of the South Africa Education Development Initiative, or SAEDI.

Morales ’84 runs his own wine company, 57 Main Street Imports, and does quite a bit of work in South Africa. His love of the country motivated him to give back, and he decided improving education in disadvantaged communities was the best way to do so.

 Last August, Wiseman went to the Western Cape region of South Africa to see if there could be any alignment between Lehigh and the needs of schools in disadvantaged communities.

“We determined there were four major areas of need—special education, community development, leadership, and math and science education,” Wiseman says.

'A win-win situation'

In order to better address these needs, Wiseman and several students in the Comparative and International Education program traveled to an area near Cape Town in December to visit Amstelhof Primary School. The Lehigh team’s goal was to see what resources the school had, to assess the learning conditions, to speak with teachers and observe their classes, and to identify potential local partners in the community.

Calvin C. Reed, a graduate student in Comparative and International Education and SAEDI team member, went on the December trip with Wiseman. He says they wanted to be observers to the educational process during their visit.

“That’s the only way you know what things are really like there,” Reed says.

But they became increasingly more involved as the project brought together multiple organizations. Wiseman and his students developed a “Soup and Science” project, which provides science enrichment activities alongside a local philanthropy in South Africa that provides weekend meals for underprivileged children. 

They also started exploring ways to work with two other local organizations (the Western Cape Primary Science Program and TRAC-South Africa) to improve science education in disadvantaged schools.

Besides helping the children at Amstelhof Primary School, the College of Education’s SAEDI project also has the chance to provide young students in Bethlehem with a unique educational experience. Wiseman’s group facilitated a partnership between Amstelhof Primary School and Asa Packer Elementary School, which is located in Bethlehem.

The SAEDI team is helping both schools structure an academic exercise that allows their students to create digital video journals documenting their lives, schools and communities to exchange with one another, he says.

Wiseman says he hopes the research conducted at Amstelhof Primary School will eventually be applicable nationwide in South Africa or even throughout sub-Saharan Africa. “We’ve done a lot, but we want to do so much more,” he says.
 
The next step for Wiseman and SAEDI is to find a consistent source of external funding. “The internal support from Lehigh’s Office of International Affairs and College of Education has been phenomenal, but we need to become self-sustaining to achieve everything we hope to,” he says.

Overall, the project has already made a significant impact.

“The project is a win-win situation,” Reed says. “The teachers of Amstelhof gain professional development. The students are learning more. And Lehigh gets to conduct some groundbreaking research.”

Story by John Gilpatrick

Posted on Friday, May 14, 2010

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