MIT and Sierra Leone professors collaborate on education strategy

MIT and Sierra Leone professors collaborate on education strategy
Greta Friar | Whitehead Institute
January 13, 2020

Whitehead Member Hazel Sive, also a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is passionate about sharing MIT’s educational strategy for producing skilled, innovative problem-solvers with other educators. Sive, who was born in South Africa and is the founder and faculty director of the MIT-Africa initiative, also cares deeply about strengthening MIT’s connections to Africa—a goal that MIT shares. MIT-Africa has the tagline ‘Collaborating for Impact’ and has the goal to promote mutually beneficial engagement in research, education and innovation with African countries. The university made the African continent a global priority region for its international efforts in 2017. Consequently, Sive was thrilled by the opportunities for exchange that arose when Sierra Leone’s new president, Julius Maada Bio, selected MIT alumnus Moinina David Sengeh (SM ’12, PhD ’16) as his chief innovation officer. Sengeh, who heads the country’s Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation, used his MIT ties to catalyze connections between leaders at MIT and in Sierra Leone, including working with MIT-Africa to do so.

Bio and Sengeh visited MIT in March 2019 to officially launch the MIT-Sierra Leone Program.  The program’s early connections with MIT include Njala University membership in the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab, MIT student internships and faculty visits to Sierra Leone, and an ongoing discourse on higher education strategy. Njala University also participated in the summer 2019 launch of the MIT-Africa Short Course.

MIT-Africa Short Courses are 2- to 5-day-long, collegial workshops or lecture series, on topics of interest in research or education. MIT faculty will bring the courses to African colleagues at their home institutions. Sive led the first Short Course series, a three-day program titled, “Educating with Problem-solving Approaches,” in July and August at Njala University, the Central University of Technology in South Africa, and the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology in Tanzania.

Sive and the three African universities selected the course topic as one of great interest. MIT has a philosophy of educating students in a problem-solving framework, where students practice problem-solving not only in class, but also in their homework, research, and independent projects.

“The great thing that we give our students at MIT, in terms of employability and flexibility to respond to shifts in careers, is the ability to solve problems, a training that is applicable across every field,” Sive said.

That skillset is one that Sierra Leone’s education leaders likewise want to foster in their students.

Sive brought two MIT students with her to each iteration of the Short Course to speak about their experiences at the Institute, six in total, including Michelle Huang, Jia-Hui Lee, Alice Li, Ashwin Narayan, Keith Puthi, and Michal Reda.

When Sive and the students ran the course in Sierra Leone, it was attended by university, technical college and higher education policy leaders. Discussion ranged from exploring MIT approaches, to considering which may be useful in Sierra Leone, to big-picture higher education strategy.

Sive is excited about connections being made between MIT and Sierra Leone, and the possibilities for important projects that can be carried out together.

“It’s outstanding to make connections with colleagues in higher education across the world,” Sive said. “The frameworks of universities across the world overlap enormously, making it easy to connect and work together toward the same goals.”

Written by Greta Friar