Every year the George Clement Bond Center for African Education (CAE) has to say goodbye to its graduating members who have impacted the center greatly. Moisa Saidu spent two years at Teachers College working with CAE, as well as supporting other organizations around campus. Moisa recently graduated with a Masters of Education in International Educational Development with a concentration in African Education and an interest in Education in Emergencies. He leaves behind a legacy of dedication through his work developing innovative events in terms of education in Africa during his time with CAE. As a Sierra Leonean with previous experience with Amnesty International as a National Africa Human Rights Coordinator and various other positions working on the continent, Moisa brought a practical perspective to African education as researched and presented through the projects and events sponsored by CAE. I asked Moisa some questions regarding his time at CAE and his responses illustrate the impact of CAE on his experience in the International Educational Development program at Teachers College, as well as how his work and contributions to CAE will inform the direction of the center moving forward.
Regarding questions about his start at CAE and what attracted his interest, Moisa described the connection between his concentration in the program in African Education and its obvious pairing with the Center for African Education. Through his academic advisor and mentor, Professor S. Garnett Russell, the director of CAE, he learned more about the center. He began working with the center informally in his first semester during the Fall 2019 semester, aiding graduate research assistants Katrina Webster and Charlotte Caron with events and various initiatives. Then, in the Spring 2020 semester Moisa joined CAE as an intern. As classes were moved online, he adapted to the changing environment and began assisting with event development and implementation. In the last academic year Moisa assumed the role of Program Coordinator in which he led the center in pioneering events, creating working groups and establishing relationships with stakeholders on the continent. In this role Moisa utilized his previous experience as an intern to guide CAE to its newest evolution with a focus on informational events that spoke to current students’ interests.
When asked his opinion on the most memorable event hosted by CAE, he couldn’t narrow it down and described three events from the Spring 2021 semester that remain with him as highlights of his time with the center. His personal interest in education innovation directed the development of the Beyond the Classroom: Promoting Innovative Education Projects event, in which stakeholders from the continent spoke about their ongoing innovation as they respond to the educational challenges amidst COVID-19 in their contexts in Africa. Speakers from Uganda and Ghana presented their work in education and their perspectives on innovation as it relates to African education. Moisa pioneered this event and organized an African Education Innovation Working Group to support and plan the event. The working group aimed to combat misconceptions of innovation and discussed ways to facilitate new thinking on the part of the participants of the event in challenging their previous ideas of innovation. This event was made possible through support from the TC Vice President Grant for Diversity and Community Initiatives (DCI). The event will be expanded this coming semester (Fall 2021) with the incorporation of Teachers College students' development of innovation to be piloted in the contexts presented.
Moisa also cited the Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights event as memorable due to its combination of various stakeholders working on this issue and student interest in the topic. The event was developed out of interest from the previous semester's Human Rights Panel event hosted jointly with the Human Rights in Africa course offered each Fall semester. Researchers from the United States and frontline activists from Sierra Leone came together to inform students and discuss, together, sexual and reproductive rights for women living in African countries. Moisa described the event as an “accomplishment” of CAE by “meeting the needs of the students.”
The final event Moisa highlighted was the Working in Africa: Experience Sharing Event with Alumni and Students. This event was the first of its kind for CAE as it brought together alumni from the International Educational Development program at Teachers College with current students in the program to discuss the processes and pathways for working on the continent and navigating the job market post graduation. Moisa explained the event “opened doors for students to connect to key stakeholders on the continent.” The event allowed current students to hear the successes of students from former years now working in the field. This event also helped develop networks for students graduating and looking for similar jobs as the ones presented by the alumni. Moisa also pointed out how the event can inform faculty and students regarding the practicality of the courses offered to students in the program and their relevance to the work being done on the continent.
All three of these events took place during the Spring 2020 semester and were held online. Under Moisa’s leadership the CAE team developed these events from the ground up and utilized online tools to provide quality events to the participants of the events; students, faculty, stakeholders, and others. A full list of the events hosted by CAE during the 2020-2021 academic year can be found in a separate blog post here.
With Moisa’s extensive contributions to CAE, I asked how his time with the center contributed to his overall experience at Teachers College. Moisa explained that working with CAE gave him “confidence in [his] courses,'' as he promoted events to his peers and participated in discussions. He also found himself in many conversations with other students about their interest in the center and the possibility of working with CAE. Moisa described CAE as the “reference point” in which he interacted with other students or faculty and expanded his interests into areas such as education in emergencies.
Continuing the conversation I wondered what might have come as a surprise to Moisa regarding the Center for African Education. Moisa described that the identity of the people working with the center came as a surprise at first; “there are not many Africans or people of African descent” working with the center. I asked him to expand by providing a possible reason for this. He explained further that the people working with CAE had “professional or academic interest and experience with the continent” and this was what was drawing their interest to the center, rather than through their identity. Additionally, Moisa continued, year to year the cohorts change and some years there are more students with identity ties to Africa than others. Moisa feels it is important that the center is a place for all people to come together under the similarity of shared interest in working on the continent. He emphasised a “level playing field” in which he believes is present at CAE and allows different people to join the center each year. This led the conversation to other organizations on campus such as African Studies Working Group (ASWG), a partner and friend to CAE. Moisa, as also a member of ASWG, sees the relationship between the organizations to be complementary as ASWG builds “friendship and partnership between students” with interests in Africa and the African diaspora, while CAE turns these relationships into working groups to develop and organize events to inform and promote the work of both organizations to the larger Teachers College community.
Moving on from reflection, I asked Moisa how his time at CAE has impacted or informed his journey beyond Teachers College. Through developing events and working with partners on the continent Moisa was able to build a network of people to reach out to when the time came for post graduation employment. Through conversations with these people he was able to discover the need for education in emergency work in the African context. This move to education in emergencies sprung from his interactions with peers through CAE research initiatives as well as conversations with faculty developed from interactions during events hosted by CAE. Expanding on his relationships with faculty, Moisa explained his ability to secure a position after graduation was thanks to the high recommendations provided by Professor Russell who watched Moisa’s passion for African education grow during his time at CAE. The Center for African Education will always be a cornerstone of Moisa’s work experience that he can often reference while moving throughout the field of International Educational Development.
In concluding our conversation, I asked Moisa what he wishes others knew about CAE and one piece of advice he would give to incoming students concentrating on African Education. Moisa explained clearly that he wished others knew “there is a lot to be unpacked by CAE members'' and “anyone can join the center as long as they have heart for Africa and the African diaspora.” He explained “there are always ways to support CAE '' and reaching out to current members is the first step in creating your own mark at the Center for African Education. Moisa’s advice for those taking on the African Education concentration in the International Educational Development program is to understand the independence involved in this concentration. This means, Moisa explained, that there are not many courses with explicit connections to African education, and while cross-registering into another school at Columbia University is an option the best way to navigate this is through the Center for African Education. Moisa advises taking on an internship with an organization based in or working in Africa. This practical experience will inform students with this concentration and allow them to adapt the courses that are offered through the program to have a focus on African education. He also advises students with this interest to consider a Ph.D or Ed.D program to begin to establish courses with an African Education focus in the program.
The conversation with Moisa was insightful and informative as he reflected and advised those who want to follow in his footsteps by working with the Center for African Education. Moisa hopes the center will continue to offer similar events as in the last academic year as the team at CAE has created a good foundation for the expansion of the events rather than new events developed from the ground up. He looks forward to attending CAE events in the future as a guest speaker and participant. We at CAE are grateful for Moisa’s contributions to the center and wish him the best of luck moving on in his career.