By Innocent Karekezi
Innovators come up with solutions to problems. Donnalee Donaldson has been doing this by launching life-changing educational initiatives for students in refugee camps and beyond.
Donnalee is currently the Regional Policy and Partnerships Strategist at Educate! It was my honor to interview Donnalee and hear her insights about how education needs to innovate.
Born and raised in Jamaica, and educated in the United States, Donnalee came to Rwanda in 2013 to launch Kepler, which is a non-governmental organization working in partnership with Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) to provide students in East Africa with access to accredited American degrees through an innovative competency-based online degree. Two years after her arrival, she and her colleagues launched Kepler Kiziba which is the site that allows promising students living in the refugee camp to earn a U.S. accredited degree from SNHU and pursue employment opportunities.
Donnalee, like most all other educators, faced the challenge of needing to deliver learning experiences in the midst of lockdowns and disruptions caused by the pandemic.
“There are quite a number of concerning trends in education right now,” she said. “Covid has amplified some of the issues and there will be some long-standing impacts.”
I had the unique opportunity to hear Donnalee’s perspectives on how education needs to innovate in response to the pandemic and workforce development trends. Here are five key points:
There is a focus on skills. In the past, education has been about knowledge and content acquisition. “With the way the world is moving now, there is more need to show skills and competency,” Donnalee said. “It is not just enough to have a certificate; you need to prove that you have skills.”
More learning options. In the past, people were taught about education as something where you just go to school for a period of time and that is it. Now we need to focus on lifelong learning. “With the way technology is evolving rapidly, those in the workforce need to understand that they have to continue building their skills,” she said.
Equity in education. We know that access to quality education is not equal. In fact, the quality of education for many depends on where you are born, how much money you have, or in some cases your gender or medical conditions. “There is more work to ensure that no matter where a child is born or what their parent does, they all have an equal chance of getting a very good education,” Donnalee said.
Technology. We have so many children who are at home learning due to Covid-19. The challenge and the opportunity are there for government and education practitioners and the community to think about how we can support the student to continue learning how to leverage technology and to make education more accessible for those not able to return to a classroom.
Employment-based education. Unemployment, even for the educated, is very high in many places across the world. Education needs to better prepare young people for the workforce. Many young people are complaining that they cannot find a job, while many times hiring managers and employers are saying they cannot find the right skills. “There is a mismatch between the employers who are looking for the people but they say they can’t find and the job seeker saying they can’t find the appropriate role. These two people are looking at each other but they can’t seem to connect. There is an opportunity for a different type of collaboration to bridge the divide.”
It was such a great opportunity for me to hear from Donnalee: her experience, academic journey and helpful advice which will accelerate my future goals. I have learned that building good relationships will help me to collaborate well with my fellow students and teachers, which in turn will help me to complete my studies and ultimately help me work in the education industry.
It was interesting to hear Donnalee’s perspectives on being open minded. Through this conversation, I was able to gain new perspectives on how the world is changing very quickly in all sectors including education. Hence, we need to have an open mind and continually update our knowledge and skills.
We need to be in charge of our own learning. Sometimes we are expecting the teacher to know what is best or expect the school to do everything for us. That mindset will not allow us to really get the best opportunities. The best opportunities are most likely going to people who are very innovative, who are intentionally developing skills, who are building their network and who communicate effectively. We must always go one step above excellence.
Connect with Donnalee on LinkedIn.
Innocent Karekezi is a student at Kepler and is based in Rwanda. He is passionate about public speaking, leadership, technology and critical thinking. Connect with him on LinkedIn.