On January 16, 2016, under a beautiful summer sky, educators who want to transform education at underperforming schools throughout sub-Saharan Africa were honored in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the second consecutive year.
Eighty-seven students of the 94 who earned their master of education degrees from Concordia University-Portland participated in the ceremony.
The educators reside in one of seven sub-Saharan African countries — Botswana, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe — and graduated from Concordia Portland’s online master’s in education program in the fall of 2015, after enrolling in 2014.
The ceremony, at the Hyatt Regency, began with an invocation by Bishop Dr. David Tswaedi, executive director of the Lutheran Communion in Southern Africa. He provided the opening and closing prayers before a crowd of family and friends.
Also participating were Dr. Glenn Smith, executive vice provost; and Dr. Sheryl Reinisch, dean of the College of Education. And several alumni, who reside in South Africa and graduated in 2014, attended the ceremony to cheer the second wave of graduates.
“This was a life-changing experience, not because one has an additional qualification or better prospects for better salary, but real life-changing indeed. For the first time, my eyes opened to see education for what it is and not what I think it should be,” said Nkosana Mavuso, one of the commencement speakers.
Mavuso of Kagiso, South Africa, earned a master’s in education in Curriculum & Instruction with a concentration in Leadership.
“When someone graduates, it calls for celebration for it is a culmination of sacrifice and hard work. But when a woman — an African woman, a wife and a mother graduates — mountains of cultural stereotypes have been moved as she negotiates her role as an academic,” said Simphiwe Mkhize, another commencement speaker.
“Today is about making a difference wherever we are. Today is about gratitude — to those whose shoulders we are standing on and those who have patiently waited for us as we flipped page after page in the quest for knowledge. Today is about possibilities that God always provides alongside the challenges.”
Mkhize of Empangeni, South Africa, earned her education master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction with a concentration in Methods and Curriculum.
Graduates exemplify transformative education
“These graduates absolutely exemplify the Concordia University mission to transform the world through leadership,” Smith said. “I have no doubt that the MEd graduates now have the critical numbers and requisite skills to revolutionize the South African K-12 system. As we continue to commit to this program, transformative education will become the norm all over sub-Saharan Africa.”
Reinisch chimed in with, “What an amazing evening. There were so many testimonies of classrooms, schools, and lives being transformed through our MEd programs.”
She added, “We were double-blessed by reconnecting with several of our South African alums. To hear what they have done with their schools this past year is a reaffirmation of our mission, from implementing learning styles inventories to determine students’ strengths to charting birth dates of learners within the classroom to better understand their developmental levels, we are transforming lives!”
What degree means to the graduates
“At Concordia, you are supported every step of the way. I have never experienced anything like this in all my student life,” said Diane Hobbs of Mossel Bay, South Africa, who earned a master’s in education in Curriculum & Instruction with a concentration in Leadership. “This support is all-encompassing — from the lecturers, to fellow classmates, to student advisors, to on-call librarians. How amazing is that?!”
Collins Moga of Nairobi, Kenya, who earned a master’s in education in Curriculum & Instruction with a concentration in Science, said, “I have now learned to approach teaching differently. I have understood that students learn differently, and I cannot just use a cookie-cutter approach to teaching. I have learned about tools to support different learning styles.”
About his experience at Concordia, Moga said, “A skill that I got from Concordia – [since] the last time I was in school was probably five years ago or before that — is I learned study skills and to stay focused. I’m a better student now.”
The graduates received full scholarships, which aim to improve education at underperforming schools throughout sub-Saharan Africa.