From Classroom to Country: Harvard Students Working with Health and Education Ministers

Last January, Marisa Steinmetz and Allison Casey, two students from the Harvard Graduate School of Education landed in the Republic of Madagascar with a mission from the Ministry of Education: to understand teacher absenteeism and identify possible solutions to this problem.

This kind of challenge provides an unrivaled opportunity for practical learning. As part of its post-Harvard technical support to Ministers, the Ministerial Program has tapped its’ three partner Harvard Schools to launch the Ministerial Student Research Program. Ministers participating in the Harvard Ministerial Program identify specific research and technical challenges impacting implementation of their legacy goals. The Ministerial Program makes the connection to appropriate students at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), and the Kennedy School to undertake short-term research and technical assistance assignments working in-country with the relevant Ministers and senior government officials. Marisa and Allison said of their experience, “The opportunity to follow up on our remote work with in-country research added immeasurable value to our project… Overall, the experience heightened our ability to make useful policy recommendations while also gaining hands-on experience as students in of international education policy.”

HGSE’s Fernando Reimers, Ford Foundation Professor of Practice in International Education, added, “The International Education Policy Masters Program at HGSE prepares students for leadership and policymaking roles in education. A major feature of the Program is a practicum in which students apply learning concepts and knowledge to practical policy situations. Creating opportunities for authentic learning is challenging. The Harvard Ministerial Program, through its network of government ministers in education, health and finance, provides unique opportunity and access for our students.”

Currently, 19 Harvard student researchers are working, with support from the Ministerial Leadership Program, across six countries in Africa. Specifically, they are providing critical policy research to the Ministries of Health in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, and Zambia on topics such as supply chain bottlenecks; improvement in reproductive health and education; stakeholder management; malaria program effectiveness, among others. Similarly, with Ministries of Education in Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Ghana, and Madagascar, students are providing research support in areas including curriculum reform, academic performance enhancement, school management and leadership, and quality improvement. Students who want to learn more about this opportunity should contact Karima Ladhani at kladhani@hsph.harvard.edu.