U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings is in Kigali this week
promoting partnerships between American and African universities. The
goal is to use higher education to drive development in Africa. For
VOA, Thomas Rippe reports from Kigali.
U.S. Secretary of
Education Margaret Spellings says higher education is vital to the
future development of Africa. She says Africa needs highly trained
professionals to take on issues such as poverty, hunger and health.
believe we cannot be effective in solving development challenges like
those we face in health care and other ways without tackling
education," she said. "It is such a fundamental building block to
Secretary Spellings is in Rwanda this week to open
the Africa Regional Higher Education Summit. The summit will bring
together representatives from universities around the United States and
Africa. The focus is on partnerships in higher education, food
security, economic growth and health. Current projects are driving
economic development in Nigeria and public health in Rwanda.
Also attending the summit are high-profile donors from around the world.
Noor Ali is the CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation USA. He agrees with
Secretary Spellings on the importance of higher education for
"How else are you going to grow the strong
leadership that this continent, or any other part of the developing
world, needs? Leaders in government, leaders in business, leaders in
civil society," said Noor Ali. "If you stop at just primary and
secondary education you are not equipping people with the skills, the
knowledge, the tools necessary for their own growth."
says the Aga Khan Foundation has been working with the U.S. government
on various programs, including education, for the past 25 years. He
says his foundation is active in Africa because it believes in the
promise and potential of the continent.
Belief in the potential
of Africa is shared by many of those at the conference. Secretary
Spellings says U.S. government investment represents only one ninth of
all American investment in Africa. She says that when American
institutions invest in Africa they want something back, and that is a
"U.S. higher institutions have some element of
self-interest," she said. "They see this as a place
that is worth investing in, worth coming to. I think their actions
One of those institutions is Tulane University in New Orleans. In
2000 Tulane established a partnership with the National University of
Rwanda to train professionals in public health. The project received a
grant from the American Embassy in Rwanda, and every year USAID
provides scholarships to 10 students to attend the school.
senior staff member at the School of Public Health in Kigali, Joshua
Rodd, explains the school helps doctors expand their thinking from
individual patients to broader social issues.
excellent doctors, but they did not really have any public health
background," he said. "So now all of a sudden they are responsible for
the health of several-hundred-thousand people. It is not just a
patient they are treating in front of them. They have to think in an
entirely new way about health."
One of those doctors is Jeanine
Condo. As a physician she was treating HIV-positive children who were
malnourished. But each time she treated a child she knew the child
would have to come back for more treatment.
She says she was
treating the symptoms, but not the root of the problem. But at the
School of Public Health she is able to create programs that address the
"I also work with other NGOs in Rwanda," said Condo. "I
designed a program where all HIV-positive kids will benefit with food.
I helped them in developing training manuals that they are using now
and the counseling cards they are using now. Half of the health
centers in Rwanda, around 200 centers, they are using the cards."
question that many here are asking is how the upcoming election in the
United States will affect these programs. But Cheryl Sim, the Charge
d'Affairs of the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda, is confident the momentum will
"I see an energy and a commitment to this whole thrust
and this whole approach that I have not seen previously in my career,"
said Sim. "So you have that kind of bureaucratic energy. That will
also carry through a transition and into the next administration."
question some are asking is why focus so much on higher education when
so many countries are struggling with their primary and secondary
education. Secretary Spellings says that most of the focus was on
primary education, but through experience she has learned that it is
really higher education that makes a difference.
"I think we
have all realized that we will be much more effective at meeting our
needs in primary and secondary education if and when we build capacity
and engagement in our post-secondary system," she said. "That is where
teachers are trained. That is where technologies are incubated."
Higher Education Summit is trying to create a ripple effect. American
institutions train people like Jeanine Condo, who is currently a
lecturer at the School of Public Health in Kigali. Some of those
students are themselves university lecturers, who will widen the circle
by passing on their knowledge to their students.