October 31, 2017

Education and Social Justice Project Addresses Poverty Through Education

Since its founding in 2010, the Education and Social Justice Project has given Georgetown University undergraduate students the opportunity to travel to 30 countries across six continents to research the connection between education and social justice.

The Education and Social Justice (ESJ) Project was established by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs and the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service. Guided by the belief that better access to education can empower the world’s poor, the project builds knowledge about how local religious communities around the world advance economic and social development through education.

ESJ fellows conduct interviews at faith-inspired educational institutions, then write a report and deliver a presentation summarizing their experiences. Their projects have ranged from peacebuilding in Rwanda to microfinance in Argentina, but all fellows focus on the nexus of educational opportunity and social justice.

Reconciliation Through Education

To research the challenges and opportunities for indigenous peoples at elite institutions, Nicholas Na (SFS‘18) traveled to St. Ignatius College, a Jesuit day school in Adelaide, Australia, that provides full scholarships to First Nations students.

According to Na, St. Ignatius College hopes to reconcile Australia’s mistreatment of the Stolen Generations—the children of indigenous peoples who were forcibly taken from their homes to be educated and raised in white communities—through its First Nations Unit. The unit helps First Nations students reconnect with their heritage, while emphasizing the inherent value of First Nations culture. 

“[At St. Ignatius,] there is a specific programmatic insistence that First Nations peoples should relearn their cultures and should be given the opportunity to express their culture,” said Na. “This is huge, because it not only teaches First Nation students the values of First Nation communities, but it teaches the whole school.”

Na reflected on his time with St. Ignatius students and faculty by reaffirming the connection between Georgetown’s philosophy of cura personalis, care for the whole person, and St. Ignatius’ commitment to achieving justice for First Nations peoples through lifelong cultural education.

“Education never really ends when your students graduate,” he explained. “To really care for the whole person doesn’t just take a year; it doesn’t take just teaching academics. It takes an education of the whole self. It takes expressing culture. It takes restoring culture. It also takes spiritual healing in a lot of senses.”

Uplifting Rural Communities

Harshita Nadimpalli (SFS‘18) shared her experiences at St. Ignatius Loyola High School (Escola Secundária Inácio de Loyola, ESIL), a rural community school in Mozambique that supports disadvantaged rural students through mandatory agriculture classes and extracurricular activities.

“[The classes] teach them innovative technology and seeding techniques to prepare them if they choose to pursue agriculture, because the reality is that many of them may not go onto other jobs,” she said. “But they are empowered in the same exact way that students are who want to go on to university or jobs to help their families.”

Nadimpalli added that her experience in Mozambique helped reshape her perceptions on which curricular components most benefit students.

“It also really instilled the value of dignity and honor in agricultural work, which is sometimes not emphasized enough in educational organizations.”

According to Nadimpalli, ESIL is also working to restructure its curriculum to move all class instruction to the mornings to allow time for cultural activities, arts, sports, and Portuguese language tutoring in the afternoons.

Lifelong Impact

In the months after their travel, ESJ fellows write case studies for a collective online report and prepare to present their projects in full during a formal research presentation in the spring semester.

Melody Fox Ahmed, associate director for programs for the Berkley Center, highlighted that the fellows’ work with the ESJ project has inspired many of them to continue to promote social justice through education in their careers.

“We have seen the ESJ project impact the fellows in profound ways: inspiring them to start their career in education, to do a program such as Teach for America, or start programs in their own home communities that benefit their ESJ hosts,” she said. “Students return with widened horizons, with a strengthened commitment to the lifelong work of promoting social justice through education, and a strong network to support them.”