URI education professor, students to help launch online class for Kenyan teachers

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KINGSTON, R.I., Feb. 4, 2015 – With the click of a computer mouse, a University of Rhode Island education professor and her students are reaching across the globe to train teachers in Kenya.

Thanks to 21st century technology, a nonprofit group founded by a former URI lecturer and enthusiastic URI students, the Kenyan teachers are learning how to teach math and literacy to other teachers in the African country.

The Africa Teacher Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by William Molloy, a former URI education lecturer, is spearheading the project. Over the years, Molloy and other teachers, including many URI alumni, have traveled to the country to voluntarily train hundreds of Kenyan and East African teachers.

Last summer, though, the group decided not to go after Islamist militants stormed the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, killing 67 people and wounding 200. But that horrific attack didn’t stop Molloy.

Instead, he explored offering the class online and reached out to Kathy Peno, a professor of adult education at URI. The two came up with a plan that involves URI students, all pursuing their master’s degrees in adult education.

Over the next semester, Peno and Molloy will bring the training course to 16 teachers in Nairobi through Web seminars, or webinars. Sessions this month are scheduled for Feb. 14 and 21 from 6 to 9 a.m., which is 2 to 5 p.m. in Kenya.

The URI students are contributing by creating teaching tools based on adult learning theory that the Kenyan teachers can use when they train other teachers. For example, the importance of incorporating personal experience into teaching will be emphasized, as well as adapting teaching styles to fit the needs of each group.

“It’s very important for my students to know that adult education happens beyond their own backyard,” says Peno. “It’s easy for students to focus on learning in their own context, but it’s important for them to see what adult education looks like in other places, even on the other side of the world.”

The students are also experiencing firsthand the life-changing benefits of 21st century technology in the classroom. “Technology can be a very powerful tool in teaching,” she says. “As URI explores global opportunities, this is a way to join in that effort.”

So far, the Africa Teacher Foundation has trained more than 1,000 Kenyan, Tanzanian and Ugandan teachers and reached 50,000 students. Peno says she is so impressed by the nonprofit she asks Molloy to talk to her students every semester about the challenges and joys of teaching in Africa.

Molloy founded his organization after visiting Kenya 10 years ago. He was invited to go to a “feeding,” thinking he’d be serving hay to elephants. “I found boys and girls lined up in a Nairobi slum for rice and beans,” he says. “I was in tears.”

Schools in Kenya are mediocre, at best. Up to 100 students are crammed into classrooms, with only one teacher. Books and supplies are scarce.

As a lifelong teacher, what caught Molloy’s attention is that the teachers were untrained. His nonprofit aims to change that. The Kenyan teachers are taught reading, math and writing and how to create lesson plans. They come away with a certificate in professional development.

Peno says she’s honored that she and her students are involved in such a worthy global education project, which also provides valuable hands-on learning: “My students are excited to have the opportunity to put their knowledge and skills to such good use.”

Molloy says he hopes to return to Kenya this summer, but will continue offering online courses. “We can reach thousands of people through these webinars,” he says. “The potential is enormous.”

Click here for information about the master’s degree in adult education or call Peno at 401-874-4875. The degree is offered through the Department of Education in the College of Human Science and Services.

Pictured above: URI education professor Kathy Peno, and students studying for their master’s degrees in adult education at the University of Rhode Island. Photos by Kathy Peno.