Lesson on education and societal change

Meneesha Govender, JustMeneesha, UWN

Postgraduate education students from New York University (NYU) and Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey in the United States are learning invaluable lessons in the teaching sector through a one-month programme based in South Africa. 

The programme, on education and social reform in South Africa, is spearheaded by Professor of Higher Education at NYU, Teboho Moja* (who is herself South African). The programme has been running at NYU since 1999 and in South Africa for the last 19 years. 

Hosted by the National Research Foundation in South Africa for the past four years, the annual visit to South Africa serves as “an exposure and learning opportunity for [American] graduate students (masters and doctoral) in higher education,” Moja told University World Newsduring a visit by her group to private distance higher education provider MANCOSA in Durban on 10 July. 

The visit was aimed at “opening up” discussions about future partnerships with all institutions and to give her students an idea of the full range of higher education institutions in South Africa, including private institutions, and came ahead of the recent launch by MANCOSA of its School of Education in South Africa.

In addition to visiting universities during their time in South Africa, the US students also visit schools and rural and urban communities to gain an understanding of the challenges faced by their leaders and policy-makers in addressing social transformation and educational reform.

Case study

“South Africa is a good case study for students to learn about transformation and the links between societal changes and education as well as the impact of education on society,” said Moja.

As part of their studies, the students examine how reform priorities are set and work to develop field-based projects and this culminates in formal papers on transformative learning based on their experiences. For the last three years the initiative has involved a joint initiative between NYU and Rutgers. 

This year, 21 students from NYU (Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development) as well as from the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, South Africa Initiative will participate. Based mainly in Pretoria, they either embark on a research project or an internship. 

This year, nine students are conducting research, while 12 are in internships at the Department of Basic Education, the Ikamva Youth Project and the University of Pretoria Student Affairs Department. The Ikamva Youth Project enables disadvantaged youth to pull themselves and their peers out of poverty and into tertiary education or employment.

Implementing change

According to Moja, many students who have gone through the programme go on to try and implement change in their own communities in the United States. 

“Some have stayed linked to South Africa and continue to work with partners or friends in the country,” she said. 

The programme has also encouraged students to return to South Africa to research their doctoral degrees. This has “contributed to the body of knowledge we have about issues in higher education”, Moja said. 

To date, Moja has had five students who have returned and continued their partnerships with stakeholders in South Africa.

This programme has also inspired others to start similar programmes or has encouraged other colleagues to do the same, either in South Africa or in other parts of the world, Moja said. 


For many years NYU has ranked as the university with the highest number of international students in the US. 

So, internationalisation is high on the agenda of NYU and it is for this reason that it pays attention to education in South Africa and other countries, said Moja.

NYU, through initiatives such as this programme, is looking at international affiliations to gather valuable insights to advance learning, not just in the US but in South Africa as well.

“The programme is about capitalising on best practices across the world,” said Moja. 

“Race, gender, sexuality, language, inclusion, access, debt and funding are all issues that play out in the US, as they do in South Africa. Through this programme, students get first-hand experience of what they’re studying in another country. This in turn assists them in implementing relevant programmes in the communities in which they work in the United States.”

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About Meneesha

Online and books editor by day, mum even while I sleep, individual all the time. I live in the beautiful city of Durban - the unpolished gem in South Africa. If I didn't have a family, I'd be that crazy cat lady your mum probably warned you not to feed! Blogging is where I share, vent, rant, laugh and generally be myself. Join the ride!