Faust Embraces African Education
University President Drew G. Faust announced a collaborative effort with a South African university to improve the country’s education systems last Thursday during a six-day trip there, the secon time a sitting University president has travelled to the African continent.
The effort, a partnership between the University of Johannesburg and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, “is designed to raise the professional standards for South African school leaders, national and provincial education officials, and other education stakeholders,” according to Ellen M. Sullivan, Harvard’s director of international advancement.
The three-year initiative will culminate in the creation of the Education Leadership Institute, to be housed at UJ’s Soweto campus. The program will also create a network for primary and secondary school administrators and a leadership development program for school and district administrators, Sullivan wrote in an e-mail.
Faust’s speech said that the program can be seen as part of a more general response to endemic underdevelopment and high crime levels in South Africa, despite its triumph over apartheid almost twenty years ago.
“If we look at South Africa and any developing nation, education is enormously important,” said Professor Caroline M. Elkins, a renowned Africanist.
“There is a great deal of improvement that needs to be done in the education system there,” said Amy Y. Wang ’12, who spent last summer teaching high school students in South Africa. “Improving the quality of teachers is perhaps one of the biggest things that needs to be done.”
But last week’s announcement, in the midst of a six-day trip to Africa, carried a deeper symbolic message not lost on students and administrators here in Cambridge.
Elkins said President Faust’s trip to the African continent represented a nod to the region’s significance, demonstrated a renewed commitment to Africa and its issues, and provided a large measure of hope for the people of Africa.
“I couldn’t emphasize enough the significance of President Faust being in Africa and the statement that makes for the community here at Harvard but also to Africans themselves,” Elkins said.
Speaking in Soweto—a city symbolic of the struggle against apartheid after protesting schoolchildren were brutally gunned down there in 1976—President Faust emphasized the importance of education in civil rights struggles and compared the South African struggle to the American civil rights movement.
“In those stories lies a common struggle for liberation, for universal rights before the law, and for human dignity against the evils of slavery and apartheid,” she said in her speech. “So if the journey from Boston to Johannesburg is a long one in miles, it is for countless Americans a very short one in emotional resonance. I am one of those Americans.”
Although many regions of Africa could benefit from the establishment of a similar program, Elkins said that Harvard chose to set up the program in South Africa because of the University’s decades-long relationship with that nation and because Harvard administrators hope that the program might serve as a model for the region.
During her tenure, Faust has made a point of emphasizing the University’s international character, travelling to China last year for a Harvard Alumni Association conference.
—Staff writer Elias J. Groll can be reached at email@example.com.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction.
CORRECTION: MAR. 29, 2011
The Nov. 11, 2010 article "Faust Embraces African Eduation" incorrectly stated that University President Drew G. Faust was the first Harvard president to visit the African continent. In fact, former University President Derek C. Bok first visited Africa on a trip in 1975.