Auburn University doctoral student provides literacy training in Senegal as Fulbright-Hays fellow

Kimberly SmithAUBURN UNIVERSITY – Kimberly Smith, a doctoral student in Auburn University’s Department of Curriculum and Teaching in the College of Education, is conducting literacy research in Senegal as a Fulbright-Hays Fellow.

Smith earned more than $27,000 in funding and is working with Senegalese educators to evaluate students’ oral vocabulary development in French and Wolof, a local language spoken by nearly 40 percent of the country’s population, and to promote French literacy skills necessary for academic and career success.

A native of Brewton, Ala., Smith has been working in the West African republic since the start of the 2012-2013 academic year.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Program provides funding for students interested in conducting research in foreign language and international studies for a period of 6-12 months.

Smith, who also conducted teacher training in South Africa, Kenya and Malawi in the last decade, said she hopes to develop instruments and practices that can help educators better connect with children in complex second language settings and considers it a privilege to participate in teacher training on a national level in Senegal.

“Senegal is not unlike many countries around the world where young children speak one language at home, but arrive at school having to learn to read and to write in a formal language that is not their mother tongue,” said Smith, who is pursuing a doctorate in reading education. “I believe strong literacy skills are essential in providing students with the base to learn in all subject areas.”

Smith’s work has received the full support of Auburn University’s Office of Outreach, which provided books and other resources for use in the schools. Her fellowship has enabled her to work closely with U.S. Embassy personnel and others who she said have helped her obtain a larger view of educational work from a global development perspective.

While Smith’s travels have taken her to France and Iraq, she said she remains devoted to serving the needs of students in impoverished settings.

A survey released by the Center for Universal Education at Brookings revealed that approximately 61 million children of primary school age in sub-Saharan Africa – one in two – will reach adolescence lacking the ability to read, write or perform basic mathematics. In Senegal, 7 percent of children who begin receiving formal education earn the equivalency of a high school diploma.

“The realities are staggering,” Smith said. “For this part of the world, a good level of education means having choices regarding one’s future, which can lead to economic opportunities.”

(Contributed by Troy Johnson.)

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