February 16, 2012
International recognition: Doctoral student presenting research on literacy in Sudan to United Nations
A Kansas State University doctoral student is getting international attention for her research involving literacy and education in Sudan.
Stephanie Pearson, doctoral student in curriculum and instruction, New York City, will present her research before the United Nations General Assembly on Feb. 21 and Feb. 23. She will speak at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.
Pearson's presentations are part of a United Nations' weeklong series that focuses on Africa. During the week, presenters and researchers from around the world will discuss ways to empower and educate African populations.
"This is recognition for the people who desperately need somebody to care and to see what is going on," Pearson said. "It is also an amazing opportunity to represent Kansas State University as well as the new breed of teachers and educators who are going through the College of Education."
Pearson was invited to give a presentation about her research on education in Sudan, particularly literacy and reading skills among children. She is working with Project Education Sudan, which is a component of the United Nations that helps to support education in Africa by honoring and valuing the culture of the Sudanese people first and foremost.
Sudan has limited educational resources, Pearson said. It has a Ministry of Education, but it is newly formed and still being refined. Similarly, isolated villages often have no teachers and limited educational supplies that might only consist of a chalkboard with lessons taught outside.
As a result, the literacy rates in Sudan are very low, Pearson said, with most children reading at the same level as a second-grader. Additionally, the few children who continue attending school often receive no more than an eighth-grade education. Pearson's research looks at how these low literacy rates are affected by outside influences, particularly genocide and the formation of the new Republic of South Sudan as its own country.
"These events have created opportunities for researchers to come in to Sudan and not only give the Sudanese people tools, but also to provide them with strategies that might help bring up the literacy rate," Pearson said.
Project Education Sudan assists communities by giving them tools to build an educational structure while still respecting their culture. Before even entering a village, the project works with native Sudanese people who build relationships and obtain permission from the village elders before anyone even enters the village.
"We feel that making sure the relationship starts off right is the only way that our partnership can work," Pearson said. "We do not go over there to invade their culture and tell them what to do. We empower communities by giving them the tools and foundation to start with, but what they do with that is up to them."
Pearson became involved in Project Education Sudan after spending three years teaching the first and fourth grades in Harlem, N.Y. Her classes had very diverse populations that included Sudanese refugees.
"I didn't know how to teach them because there were bigger issues going on beyond their education," Pearson said. "Their literacy levels were far lower than I thought they would be and there was no foundational knowledge to even start with. After doing research and contacting organizations, I began to realize that one of the main problems was that these children were not receiving any type of education in Sudan."
Soon after, Pearson connected with Project Education Sudan and then began a master's and doctoral program in curriculum and instruction at Kansas State University. While looking at ways to improve literacy in Sudan, she is working with Lotta Larson, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction.
Pearson will travel to Sudan in January 2013 to meet with government officials and villagers throughout Sudan.
"We feel that without this foundational knowledge of literacy, you can't move on," Pearson said. "Literacy is in everything you do and I can't imagine functioning in a world where I don't have that option."