This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

Bringing Africa to the classroom

Schoolteachers from every corner of Southern California came to UCLA on Nov. 1 for a full day of training aimed at integrating African subject matter into the classroom.

Organizers offered practical ways for teachers to move beyond stereotypes about African disease, poverty, and chaos on the one hand, and safari animals and exotic customs on the other.

Peter N.R.O. Ogego, Kenyan ambassador to the United States, speaks to teachers at the UCLA event.
Peter N.R.O. Ogego, Kenyan ambassador to the United States, speaks to teachers at the UCLA event.
"Africa is also a continent of the future, and this is why Africa matters in the classroom," said Peter N.R.O. Ogego, the Kenyan ambassador to the United States, in the Teach Africa keynote speech addressing roughly 200 teachers, as well as a few students and members of the general public.

UCLA Professor and Chair of Political Science Edmond Keller addressed the group on democracy, human rights, and signs of a "second scramble for Africa" involving the United States and China. The teachers were introduced to updated classroom materials including the GlobaLink-Africa Online Curriculum developed under Keller's supervision.

Afternoon breakout sessions – including one run by Jeanette Ndhlovu, the consul general of South African in Los Angeles – covered topics such as cultural ties between Africa and Latin America, independence movements, pop culture in Africa and media images of the continent. Katrina Daly Thompson, who chairs UCLA's African Studies interdepartmental degree program on campus, praised the pop culture session.

"Popular culture is a great way that young students can begin to understand the culture," she said. "When they find out that they listen to the same type of music that their peers listen to in Africa, it can create a sense of commonality, so Africa is not that exotic, 'other' space."

Ysamur Flores-Pea, a visiting lecturer at UCLA from Otis College of Art and Design, said that students in multiethnic Los Angeles need better education about their common roots.

"The problem is that you have African Americans looking at Latinos as foreigners. What they don't realize is that they have Africa in their veins," he said.

In the keynote speech, Ambassador Ogego argued for more attention in U.S. classrooms to a wide variety of issues, including modern social movements in Africa, the rise of its middle classes, steps towards accountability in governments, diasporic communities worldwide, and Africa's integration into global networks.

"The best thing that ever happened to Africa was the end of the Cold War," Ogego said. It was then that the continent "could begin to hold to account" dictators who had been opportunistically supported in the West.

In a talk on modern Africa's challenges, Keller pointed out that actual instability and the threat that conflicts will spill over borders have continued to keep foreign investment away from many countries. He highlighted a brain drain in which 70,000 highly educated Africans leave the continent annually. However, he pronounced himself "optimistic" on prospects for greater democracy and stability.

"What is clear is that over the last decade and a half, democratic procedures and institutions have been put in place on the continent," Keller said. "But democracy does not come like the big bang. It comes in bits and pieces, and it is fraught with false starts and pitfalls."

Saturday's event was sponsored by the Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa, the James S. Coleman African Studies Center at UCLA, The Discovery Channel Global Education Partnership, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which has provided funding. South African Airways awarded two round-trip plane tickets to the country in a drawing that day. The winner was Joe Kenney, a teacher at Duarte High School who has attended previous Teach Africa events at UCLA.
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