Five universities from Germany and Africa are helping to shape the African excellence centre CERM-ESA. Together, they are generating impetus for a future-oriented educational culture and are learning from one another in the process.
Many African countries have considerable development potential – with young populations and a growing middle class to drive economic growth. Stable structures are needed, especially in the education sector, to consolidate this progress. One part in this is being played by the “Centres of African Excellence”. These specialist centres that have been set up by the DAAD with support by the Federal Foreign Office are supporting universities in Africa, helping them to raise the quality of the education they provide and expand their research capacities.
There are now ten such centres in sub-Saharan Africa. Each responds to the specific challenges of the country in which it is located, developing the weak banking sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, or modernising goods transport in Namibia. The East and South African-German Centre of Excellence for Educational Research Methodologies and Management (CERM-ESA) in Kenya is concerned first and foremost with modernising the education system.
From pre-school to lifelong learning
“From the outset we wanted to address the Kenyan education system as a whole – from pre-school to university to opportunities for lifelong learning. To this end, we bring academic, social and political actors together”, says Professor John Chang’ach, dean of the School of Education and head of the CERM-ESA project at Moi University. This university in Eldoret in the west of Kenya is the main site of the centre that is managed on the German side by the University of Oldenburg. Each year, some 2,000 teachers are trained for all school levels at Moi University. The CERM-ESA programme gives students the opportunity to do a research-oriented master’s degree in educational science. In addition, master’s and PhD scholarship holders have the chance to take part in annual research schools.
In Kenya, the CERM-ESA has now achieved the status of an advisory partner for the Ministry of Education, which means that it is involved in political decision-making processes that affect the country's entire education system. Dr. Dorothee Weyler, who coordinates the African centres at the DAAD, sees this as a very good example of its impact – especially with respect to the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. “If the CERM-ESA university project is capable of exerting influence right down to the grassroots level, then it will achieve exactly what SDG 4 essentially means by inclusive and equitable quality education: a development that penetrates through to as much of society as possible and thus promotes lifelong learning for everyone.”
In close contact with the nine other centres
Throughout all of these activities CERM-ESA maintains close contact with its direct network partners in Germany, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa, as well as with the nine other centres. “Within the wide-ranging network of the initiative, CERM-ESA also offers many training opportunities for the teaching staff and students of all centres”, explains Dr. Dorothee Weyler. Teachers, researchers and academic staff from all partner countries can attend intensive workshops on numerous topics, from higher education didactics and management to research methods and writing techniques.
Because the participants always contribute their own expertise to these courses, the programme has broad-ranging impact – not only on the African continent, but in the longer term also beyond, says Dr Susan Kurgat, CERM-ESA coordinator at Moi University. “What makes our programmes special is the way in which we have established a strong network of partners in the global south and north. We learn from one another and work together towards our vision of inclusive and equitable quality education for all – in our respective countries and worldwide.”
“Overcoming structures from the colonial era”
In doing so CERM-ESA is not only contributing to the sustainable development goal of quality education, explains Professor Bernd Siebenhüner, one of the two project leaders at the University of Oldenburg: “Education also has the potential to boost many other SDGs. As a result, we can work effectively towards ecological, social and economic objectives.” In the opinion of Malve von Möllendorff, CERM-ESA coordinator at the University of Oldenburg, it is also a question of the historical responsibility of former colonial countries: “In Kenya – as in many other African nations – education was long abused as an instrument of colonial rule to train people for menial tasks or to turn elites into compliant partners.”
As von Möllendorff explains, this also means that it is important today to critically examine formal educational structures and processes to determine whether they actually benefit everyone, help people in their personal development and enable them to lead fulfilled lives. “We must identify which legacies still remain, both in terms of higher education structures and in people’s minds. And we must work hard to overcome these and establish new, locally effective structures.”