A recipient of an AY2019–2021 Open Society Foundation’s (OSF) Civil Society Leadership Award (CSLA), Morjakole Alex David Diko graduated in May of 2021 from the Master’s in Educational Policy Studies Program in the UW School of Education. His master’s thesis explored the connection between qualified secondary school teachers’ experiences and perceptions about the education system with the teacher shortage in Juba, South Sudan. He particularly focuses on the life of teachers in relation to their work and how they make sense of their social and economic status.
The following is an excerpt from a conversation Morjakole had with Kruthika Kamath—IPO Program Assistant—on April 28, 2021. In the interview, he shares his experience at UW–Madison and as an OSF CSLA awardee, and also provides some advice for the incoming cohort of OSF CSLA awardees, which may be helpful for other incoming international graduate students as well.
Kruthika: How was your overall experience at UW–Madison and your program?
Morjakole: The program has really taught me and helped me devote my mind as an academician. This is my second master’s program, but it has been so positive, especially in terms of making me understand things, think critically, and better engage with theories. This course is broad and goes far beyond my own context, which helped me tremendously in my thesis. Also, the professors are friendly and my average experience has been great! The only challenge has been the lockdown, which unfortunately was enforced in my second semester [of my first year]. But before that, I got opportunities to explore Madison and attend a few outings with my classmates.
Kruthika: What was your experience as an OSF CSLA fellow and how do you feel about the program?
Morjakole: I was very happy when I was told that I won the award. They are credible and once I got it, I knew I could do what I wanted to do in terms of my research. I especially like the care they showed, from the time of the interviews to the selection and my arrival in Madison. They provided everything, they consulted me every time, and they are in touch, specifically Tracee [Nwafor, OSF Program Specialist]. Tracee has been very good in informing me on what the processes were, the different decisions required by me, and has been an overall good guide. It’s been a great opportunity and I would recommend the OSF scholarship to everybody!
Kruthika: What are your long-term plans for your thesis project?
Morjakole: I have the view that currently teachers are only conceptualized as individuals who should be provided pedagogical knowledge to do their work well but there is no focus on their working conditions once they enter the workforce. My long-term plans are to facilitate collaboration to close the gap between policy makers and education administrators so that they can understand the teachers’ conditions and find ways to improve them. I want to create a space where the teacher is not only heard but also his/her material needs are considered especially in conflict-affected contexts. It reminds me of the observation that “teachers’ working conditions are the students’ learning conditions” and that is excellent. I strongly think we need a different approach to look at teachers’ issues, particularly in conflict contexts.
Kruthika: Do you have any advice for the incoming cohort of OSF CSLA awardees?
Morjakole: My first advice is about living in America and that is taking care of oneself. When you go out into the world, you truly meet the world. You see things that you like and things that you do not like. You can see things that may be unfamiliar in your culture; learn to appreciate cultural diversity. So, it is important to be careful and be aware of what might affect you, positively or negatively. My second piece of advice is to be responsible for your own academics. There is freedom in classes here mainly about choosing your topics for the final papers in your classes. Whatever you choose to work on, always share with your professor and classmates in order to get help from them on how you can make your work even greater as they will help you think broadly. So, when it comes to assignments and classes, the world is your own and you can do whatever you want with it. And the final advice is [regarding your financial support] to make sure to live within your means.