Education is widely considered one of the greatest investments a government can make into its citizens and economic prosperity. At the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), government officials are working with partner countries to improve the quality and reach of their education systems. The agency recently stood up the Center for Education, charged with achieving sustained, measurable improvements in students’ learning outcomes and skills development. In addition, education teams are embedded within regional bureaus and are responsible for assisting with country-level education programming.
Over the summer, I had the opportunity to intern with USAID’s Africa Bureau, where I learned how the U.S. Government (USG) foreign assistance is programmed to support children and youth’s educational development. During my internship, I participated in numerous working groups that deepened my understanding of what education has the power to do for children and youth, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalized.
One of my most meaningful assignments was helping to lead the USG’s Working Group on Education in Crisis and Conflict Settings. Through this experience, I learned that schooling is important for a myriad of reasons beyond learning outcomes and job placement. In conflict and crises zones, for instance, schools can provide children with physical and emotional protection as well as a greater sense of normalcy.
For this group, I was responsible for encouraging participant engagement and organizing monthly meetings. I secured additional members, solicited member feedback, and crafted agendas based on participant input and events on the ground. Through this group, I was able to see first-hand how the USG is ensuring the continuity of education programming in some of the most difficult humanitarian crises zones—from Haiti to Afghanistan.
I was also able to take part in several joint research projects that USAID funded in collaboration with external partners. These research projects included: 1) a review of social and emotional learning outcomes for students in Africa, 2) an analysis of how education contributes to resiliency in Africa (and vice-versa), and 3) an examination of how violence against children is perpetrated within school systems and recommendations for prevention. I coordinated workflow between USAID and external partners for these research projects, compiled feedback, participated in working sessions on key findings, and observed field interviews.
Most significantly, I distilled each of the final research papers into three two-page summary sheets for ease of reference for our team and future collaborators. Of the three research topics, I found the insight into social and emotional learning outcomes to be the most interesting. While I had conceptualized learning outcomes solely in terms of curriculum content, schooling is also paramount for developing students’ social and emotional competencies – from peer-to-peer dynamics to emotional self-regulation. These competencies, which schools, directly and indirectly, teach their students, are critical for helping individuals to manage shocks and stressors into adulthood.
Lastly, I helped to roll out two new initiatives within my team for USAID writ large. First, I helped launch a new USAID working group on promoting resiliency within the education system in Africa. I worked with the lead organizer to finalize the participant list, develop the kickoff meeting agenda, and review the group’s statement of work and overall mission. Second, I assisted with developing an online training module designed to assist officers with safeguarding and protecting children’s rights within education programs. I coordinated with external partners to organize a two-week pilot testing of the training module – securing expert USAID officers to help pilot, creating and reviewing feedback forms, and taking the training myself.
From this training, I learned that schools are not always safe spaces that positively impact the lives of children. At times, schools are the site of violence and abuse, particularly in crisis and conflict-affected areas and among the most marginalized. The training taught me how to identify signs of abuse and respond to and report situations of abuse.
At the conclusion of my internship, I not only gained greater insight into education programming but also into my future career trajectory. I applied to the Ford Dorsey Master’s in International Program (MIP) at the the Freeman Spogli Institute with the intention to focus on international security from a humanitarian, development, and human rights perspective. I envision my next job within USAID, the U.S. Department of State, or the United States Institute of Peace. Now that I have interned with USAID, I am certain that this is still the path I see for myself. Following my internship, I plan to apply to the Presidential Management Fellows Program, as well as directly to USG hiring agencies. I am confident that my time spent at USAID has prepared me well for this new chapter.