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Off To Africa—Again Education Professor Teresa Harris Earns Fulbright For Six-Month Teaching Trip
By Chris Edwards
College of Education Professor Teresa Harris has earned Fulbright funding to teach early childhood education at a university and another school in South Africa from January to June, 2010.
Harris will do her teaching at the University of Pretoria and at the Child Academy in Tambesa—in northern South Africa’s rural Venda section.
The trip will be the latest in a series of visits to South Africa since 2006, when Harris served as curriculum specialist for a group of local teachers visiting Kenya on a five-week, intercultural travel seminar. That trip was supported by a Fulbright-Hays/Department of Education grant. Harris also visited South Africa on an assignment for her church that year.
She returned to South Africa in summer 2007 with 11 students and took another group of students this past March. In July, she will take eight graduate students to South Africa, where they will complete an elective course.
The trips have been especially intensive for students. Along with gaining teaching experience and studying child development, they must rapidly learn the geography, culture and political structure. Harris prepares them to see poverty in some areas and to be aware when families struggle to pay their children’s tuition. In Venda, students must be prepared to walk most places they go. Running water is only available at times and must be heated on stoves for bathing.
Educators in Africa and America face similar issues, Harris said, but there are differences in the ways the societies perceive teaching. The U.S., she said, has many high-quality teacher-training programs and students who choose education specialties genuinely want to teach. Teaching in South Africa, however, is "a fairly low-paying job, with not much prestige." With 25-percent unemployment, "You’ve got people who don’t really want to be teachers but are."
Despite that view of education, Harris stresses its importance. Education, she said, ensures people have access to important resources such as good nutrition, health care and employment opportunities, and it empowers them "to take a place in society and to have a voice."
"For us, children and families are the most important part of the system, and if we care for them well, we have a just and thriving society of human beings."
When challenges seem overwhelming, Harris advises her students to remember, "This is the part that I can play."
Harris said her Fulbright semester will involve working with children as well as university students.