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College of Education > News and Publications > News: October - December 2013 > Student Works with English-Language Educators in Africa

Student Works with English-Language Educators in Africa

Colleen Shaughnessy, a doctoral student in the College of Education, spent last summer working in Africa as an English language specialist.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—Colleen Shaughnessy, a doctoral student in adult education, is no stranger to the African continent. This College of Education scholar has spent almost five years in total, in countries such as Zimbabwe, Ghana, South Africa and Rwanda. This past summer, Shaughnessy spent nearly four weeks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) working for the U.S. State Department as an English language specialist.

Colleen Shaughnessy with students in AfricaIn this position, Shaughnessy traveled throughout the country speaking with high school teachers, teacher trainers and professors conducting a needs analysis of English language programming.

“My goal was to understand the situation from the perspective of teachers and students and to honor the teachers’ expertise and knowledge, as many of them had been teaching for 15 years or more,” said Shaughnessy. “I saw myself as a gatherer of information in order to enhance what was already taking place and to encourage the ongoing efforts of current teachers.”

During meetings with teachers and English learners, Shaughnessy said she learned about the education system in the DRC and the national and private English-language-learning and teacher-training efforts.

“The teachers demonstrated their dedication despite incredible obstacles and challenges,” said Shaughnessy. “Their hunger for knowledge and up-to-date teaching methods and techniques was evident in every conversation.”

Colleen Shaughnessy teaching a class in AfricaShaughnessy said she has had a long relationship with education in Africa.

“I studied abroad as an undergrad in Zimbabwe and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana,” said Shaughnessy. “When I received the opportunity to go to the DRC to assist English teachers to develop their educational efforts, I could not pass it up. Sub-Saharan Africa has become my second home.”

Shaughnessy said on most days she met with teachers, observed classes and visited schools. She also presented one workshop for teachers.

“I was largely based in Kinshasa, the capital, but I also spent a few days both in Lubumbashi and Kisangani,” said Shaughnessy.

According to Shaughnessy, this project was more related to her past academic and professional pursuits. However, she hopes to maintain involvement in English as a Second Language (ESL) after she completes her doctorate.

“My current research involves prison education,” said Shaughnessy. “I hope to continue to work internationally as a consultant while engaging with ESL and prison education in this country, likely at the community college level.”

Asked if this is something she sees herself doing again, without delay, Shaughnessy answers with a definite, “Yes.”

--by Kevin Sliman (October 2013)