Jacqueline SpearsK-State Program Sending Teachers to Ethiopia to Bring Lessons on Diversity and Culture Back to American Classrooms 

A new Kansas State University program will send 12 American teachers to Ethiopia to study the African nation's culture and develop classroom lessons for U.S. schoolchildren.

Jacqueline Spears (BS '69 and MS '72), associate professor in K-State's College of Education and director of K-State's Center for Science Education, said that the country of Ethiopia is home to nine ethnically-based states, 84 indigenous languages and two major religions, making it a prime place from which to extract lessons about cultural diversity.

"What you're talking about here is getting teachers to include a closer look at a given country so that children begin to understand how diverse cultures are across the world," Spears said. "Within Ethiopia itself it's really very rich and diverse, and that diversity runs deep into the past."

The project, which is supported by an $81,566 grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Program, consists of a month long seminar where teachers of grades 4-8 can learn about Ethiopian history, language and culture.

The trip will take place in July 2010 and participants will spend 12 days in Ethiopia's capital city, Addis Ababa, and 19 days touring the rest of the country. The teachers will have the opportunity to visit schools, learn about the geography and culture in regions both north and south of Addis Ababa, explore the roots of the modern Christian and Moslem faiths, see the stunning landscapes and explore the challenges that modern Ethiopia faces.

Besides the obvious lessons in how such diverse groups interact and function as a nation, Spears also said Ethiopia is believed to be the cradle of civilization and is one of the few places in the world where tectonic plates are receding -- so there are a multitude of lessons teachers could develop based on their experiences in Ethiopia.

"Contrasting American history with Ethiopian history provides a context from which children realize in concrete ways that the United States is a very young country," Spears said. "Learning phrases in another language helps children realize that language captures experiences -- that there are words in one language that have no equivalent in another. Also, seeing the social and economic challenges in another country helps children appreciate what they have and, perhaps, become committed to helping those in poorer countries."

K-State is collaborating with Ethiopia Reads, a nonprofit organization working to increase literacy and provide the country's schoolchildren with books. Ethiopia Reads serves nearly 100,000 children and young people annually through its libraries in Addis Ababa and the popular Donkey Mobile Libraries that serve rural villages.

Program participants also will be asked to organize a book exchange between their students in America and the people they'll meet on the trip. Spears said this will involve some book-making activities, where books made by schoolchildren in both countries will be translated and shared across borders.

The Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Program provides grants to support overseas projects in training, research and curriculum development in modern foreign languages and area studies for teachers, students and faculty engaged in a common endeavor.

In addition to Spears, others involved in the project include Laurie Curtis, assistant professor of elementary education at K-State; Jane Kurtz, children's author and Ethiopia Reads board member from Lawrence; LeAnn Clark, a former elementary school teacher and K-State Alumni Fellow; Chris Kurtz, who teaches English as a second language in Portland, Ore.; and Alicia Van Borssum, who teaches English as a second language in the Greece School District in upstate New York.

Application materials are available at http://www.coe.k-state.edu/opportunity/ethiopia.htm

The deadline to apply is Feb. 15, 2010.

Courtesy of K-State Media Relations 

Source: Jacqueline Spears, 785-532-5530, jdspears@k-state.edu
News release prepared by: Katie Mayes, 785-532-6415,

Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009