Higher Education @ J-WEL sends MIT students to Rwanda, South Africa | MIT J-WEL

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Higher Education @ J-WEL sends MIT students to Rwanda, South Africa


Diane Mwizerwa

This summer, Higher Education @ J-WEL selected two MIT sophomores to travel to Rwanda and South Africa through J-WEL's Global Ambassadors Program, which sends top MIT students to work on meaningful education projects across the globe. The program is run through the MIT International Science and Technology Initiative (MISTI)

Mechanical Engineering major Diane Mwizerwa (right photo) traveled to the Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology in Rwanda, where she helped her students learn foundational academic skills, including study techniques, how to approach questions on exams, and group work. Mwizerwa is herself a graduate of Gashora. “I rediscovered my true self, my home, and my culture,” she says of the experience. 

Economics major Boluwatife Akinola journeyed to South Africa, where she worked with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences Schools Enrichment Centre (AIMSSEC). AIMSSEC is a not-for-profit organization providing professional development courses for mathematics teachers, subject advisers and field trainers in South Africa, introducing new mathematics teaching skills, improving subject knowledge and empowering teachers from disadvantaged rural and township communities. J-WEL spoke with Akinola (below photo) about her experience.


Tell us about yourself. 

My name is Boluwatife Akinola and from the stylish name you can guess I’m not from here: I am Nigerian. I’m currently a sophomore and when not studying Mathematical Economics at MIT, I’m involved with Sakata Afrique, Business Club, and some religious groups on campus. I became first interested in teaching in my second year of secondary school back in Nigeria. Over the school term, about 30 of us students organized with the community children to have school lessons over the weekend. I loved it. Those Saturdays could be long and terribly hot, but after I’d spend about 10 minutes in the classroom with the kids laughing and shouting, I was often reminded of the joy that came from interacting with pupils in a positive learning environment. I was able to spend five years teaching those pupils and before I moved to America, we were teaching over 200 kids on average each week! 



What did you do at AIMSSEC?

I worked with a subgroup of AIMSSEC particularly on a 10-day intensive course on mathematical learning and teaching. This involved us teaching professional teachers from all parts of South Africa and particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds. I was particularly involved with training the teachers on IT.


What were you trying to achieve during your experience?

I only knew for one that AIMSSEC was going to give me the avenue to become a lot more flexible with my teaching style, hence my biggest goal was learning. I was excited to be learning from more advanced educators all over the world, including a renowned mathematics professor from Cambridge, about how best to explain concepts in the most simple and intuitive ways. Plus, the fact that the people I would be teaching were teachers, I had many minds to pick from and choose what teaching styles and techniques worked best. And fortunately, judging by the feedback from the students, I felt I was able to achieve just that. 


How did you prepare to participate in the program?

Because of the very, very tight MIT schedule, I’d admit I couldn’t get recent hands-on experience in preparation for the course. However, I did talk a lot with the program coordinator who frequently briefed me and told me what to expect. 


What was the most challenging aspect of teaching in the program?

The only teaching experience I had had prior to this was with kids below 12. There I was meant to teach ‘students’ that were the same age as my mother! So, for one, that meant that the occasional scolding one would give a four-year-old was off limits. Still, I wanted the students to take the materials being offered to them seriously, particularly because the subject I was taking, IT, wasn’t being officially graded. I remember on the last class I had, I told the teachers that their work was going to be graded and would be used in their assessments. Immediately all of them became like school kids! The rest of that class was taken with so much seriousness and intensity. By the end of the class, after I was satisfied with their wonderful performance in the given exercises, I confessed my lie and they all burst into laughter, all except one lady who didn’t find my joke entirely funny. 

But that’s just one of the instances where I had to figure out alternative methods of teaching and I could’ve only been afforded that opportunity at AIMSSEC.Boluwatife

Name something you learned from your students.

Besides the ability to now eloquently pronounce the X in isiXhosa, I was able to learn from my students in a way a child learns from their parents. Many of the older female teachers treated me like their kid and they would share their stories with me, always ready to offer moral advice.

Akinola adds, “As an African indigene, I took pride in working with other professionals on an educational pan-African initiative that celebrates knowledge and culture.”

J-WEL members and other organizations that are interested in working with MIT students through this program can contact jwel AT mit dot edu to learn more.