Back to school, back to school…

The spring semester has officially begun, and, after being sick for most of my break (sad face), I’m more than ready to get back into the swing of things here at Penn and IEDP.

Here’s my schedule for the spring:

  • Proseminar
  • Indigenous Education and Language Revitalization
  • Advanced Principles in Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Qualitative Modes of Inquiry
  • Social Enterprise Models and Social Impact Locally and Globally

Yep, that’s five classes this semester. With my GA duties, work-study, CIES proposal/preparation, working with a nonprofit organization, and a bunch of other things that I’m definitely forgetting at the moment, I have a full plate on my hands for the spring. Despite the impending avalanche of work ahead of me, I remain optimistic that I will be able to manage everything. Time management skills (hopefully) for the win!

Today we had our first meeting of Proseminar, and it was hard to settle us down; everyone was saying hello to everybody, summaries of our breaks were divulged, and the excitement at seeing each other after our holidays was palpable. The weather also greeted the beginning of the semester with warmth: around 63 degrees of kindness. While I’m still trying to figure out what mood Philadelphia weather wants to be in (we had a snowstorm during the weekend), I still get great joy from walking around Penn’s campus and being a student. Does that sound weird? Even though I’m doing the accelerated version of IEDP, I’m still loving the academic environment. It begs you to be critical and look beyond face value at ideas presented to you, which is so vital now more than ever. Not that I’m uncritical outside of school, for the record; though you can’t beat the convenience of designated forums to analyze those ideas.

Most of our time during Proseminar today was spent going over the syllabus, and discussing the (dun dun dun!) Policy Brief. Like last semester’s Proseminar, it’s spring counterpart centers, perhaps more so, around a major project. This time, we all will be working on a Policy Brief. In essence, our policy brief is going to be a 5,000-word document that identifies an issue in some aspect of a country’s education policy while drawing upon “international practices and reforms that might be used to design, justify and promote a change in how things are done at a school, an institution or at the district, state, or national level.” And then we give recommendations on what to do. Unlike the Technical Proposal, this is a solo endeavor, and at the end of the semester, everyone will present their individual posters to the entire class and IEDP faculty. Since my focus is on literacy and multilingualism, I’ll most likely center my policy brief on those topics, but I might be able to salvage some relaxation time before I have to start seriously working on this!

Also during Proseminar today, Dr. Wagner asked us to discuss in breakout groups whether or not our idea of development has changed at all after a semester experiencing IEDP. For some of us, there was a huge change, while for others, not so much; our positionalities played a huge role in determining that. I think something we all acknowledged though is that development is something far more complex than previous assumptions. For me, that was certainly the case; I came into the program with the predominant perception of development as creating a program and executing it in X country. A fairly barebones assessment, honestly, but now I’m much more aware of the complicated dimensions comprising this subject, including, but not limited to: ethics in development, the (mostly negative) history of development and to what degree it still informs/influences current development actors/missions, the difficulties in measuring (and defining) effectiveness, the variegated lip service paid to different stakeholders and whose influence dominates an organization’s practices.

Has it made me more critical of development than I was in the beginning? Absolutely, and while this has jaded me to an extent, I still value it much more than maintaining a rosy and ignorant view of the field. It’s crucial for anyone going into development to be aware of all its faults in order to effect change, or maintain the status quo. (Although I would hope that knowing the faults would lead to the former rather than the latter.) I haven’t disillusioned myself to the point where I question why I’m even bothering to enter this field, because I do still believe in the good that development can do. The questioning centers now on how can I be doing the best “good” moving forward.

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