EDC works in Africa to improve the education, health, and livelihood opportunities of people whose daily lives are often fraught with the challenges of thriving in difficult circumstances.
Based in Nairobi, Kenya, Kent Noel directs EDC’s East and Southern Africa Regional (ESAR) Center, which oversees initiatives in Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Tanzania, Madagascar, Comoros, Rwanda, Malawi, and Zambia. Most of the projects—which range from the Sudan Radio Service, an independent news and information agency, to youth livelihoods projects and basic education and teacher training activities—specialize in applying appropriate technologies coupled with the latest learning and teaching techniques to serve hard-to-reach populations.
Noel works with project personnel, funding organizations such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and host governments to develop, implement, and manage projects according to the needs of their countries.
What led you to get involved in international development work?
While growing up on a Kansas farm, I was fascinated by stories from relatives who had worked in Africa and other parts of the developing world. Prior to working internationally, I taught in junior high school and college and helped start a small instructional design business.
In 1985, my university contacts led to my first job in Botswana as a curriculum developer, and I’ve been working internationally ever since. I’ve also worked in Turkey, Pakistan, Zambia, and, now, East and Southern African countries.
What areas of need have you worked in?
Most of my work has been in basic education, especially for girls. My five-year stint with USAID in Zambia was one of my most challenging—yet gratifying—work opportunities. With hundreds of thousands of out-of-school children and their families affected by HIV/AIDS, I was privileged to set up USAID’s education program to support those children.
It was there that I became familiar with EDC’s interactive radio instruction (IRI) work in reaching orphans and other vulnerable children who had no other access to education opportunities. I saw how the IRI approach was not only based on sound instructional design but was almost magical in its appeal to children and teachers, leading to better learning and teaching. That’s what led me to seek a home with EDC in 2003.
How has your work in Africa changed over the years?
My personal work in Africa has evolved from that of a technical advisor in curriculum development and instructional systems to more of an educational manager of projects. Both levels are rewarding in different ways. Also, the expectations of USAID have changed over the years, from tracking inputs such as numbers of textbooks developed and number of teachers trained to monitoring the quality of outcomes like better performance of our clients—whether they be children, teachers, or youth. Finally, new information technologies are helping us reach populations that were largely neglected in the past.
Could you give us some examples of how new technologies can improve the lives of hard-to-reach populations?
New information technologies include wind-up and solar-powered radios and other digital audio and video devices, the Internet, computers, and cell phones. Radios with alternative renewable power supplies ensure that IRI lessons can continue when there is no electricity or batteries. In Sudan and Somalia, we’re combining the wind-up and solar power technologies with iPods and mp3 players to provide audio and video lessons for teachers and pupils.
Cell phone services provide efficient ways to monitor student teachers from a distance, notify teachers of upcoming events, and link unemployed youth to job opportunities. Satellites, the Internet, and computers provide learners with access to open source applications and libraries of information that would never otherwise be possible. In fact, we often use a combination of these technologies with Internet capacities to forge solutions to challenges posed by distance, rough terrain, poor education levels, and lack of resources.
What’s the most satisfying aspect of your work?
Having the opportunity to work with people from interesting cultures, philosophies, and religions and partnering with them to improve their circumstances is one of the most satisfying aspects of my work. The diversity among countries, such as climate, terrain, languages, and ambience, provide me with a constant source of stimulation and learning.