By Steven Krolak
NEW ALBANY, Ind. — Dr. Doyin Coker-Kolo, dean of the School of Education at Indiana University Southeast, was recently named president-elect of the Association of Third World Studies (ATWS). The selection took place at the ATWS annual conference in Quito, Ecuador. Dean Coker-Kolo will take up her duties as president in November, 2016, at the next ATWS conference, to be held at IU Southeast.
The ATWS is the largest professional organization in the world devoted to the study of developing nations, with a membership composed of scholars, diplomats, development practitioners and persons in government from 45 U.S. states and 21 countries. Founded in 1983 by the late Harold Isaacs, professor of history at Georgia Southwestern State University, the ATWS enjoys consultative status to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, giving it the ability to contribute scholarly insights and inform policy at the highest levels.
Dean Coker-Kolo has been involved with the ATWS for nearly 30 years, an involvement that is tightly intertwined with her background, research focus and career path.
A native of Nigeria, Coker-Kolo earned undergraduate and advanced degrees in educational administration, with a special interest in universal basic education. In 2000, the United Nations set access to such education as the second Millennium Development Goal, to be met by 2015. In her most recent research project, presented at the ATWS conference in Ecuador, Coker-Kolo assessed progress toward that goal in Sub-Saharan Africa. She found that universal access to elementary education has been met in 95% of the countries in the region in terms of enrollment, but that this progress has been overshadowed by unevenness in the quality of the education being delivered. Factors such as poor teacher training, lack or mismanagement of resources, political instability and traditions concerning the role of especially girls in society continue to obstruct the attainment of this development goal, said Coker-Kolo.
Structural adjustment policies and a reduction in aid from developed countries following the 2008 recession have also negatively impacted the attainment of this goal. “Some developing countries are heavily indebted, so much of the money they receive as aid is spent on servicing debt rather than in funding education,” said Coker-Kolo.
In Sept. 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals targeting attainment in 2030. Again, education is a central focus, but there is a shift from quantity to quality.
“One thing I like about these goals is that they focus not just on enrollment as the key to achievement in primary education, but also about the quality of education and inclusiveness in decision making,” Coker-Kolo said.
With local agencies more deeply included in education planning and resource allocation, Coker-Kolo said, the potential for better data collection exists. This, in turn, could lead to a more realistic and accountable measurement of program performance and a more accurate and useful assessment of outcomes.
This is where the ATWS comes in, using its scholarly research capacity and international connections to be an agent of change.
Coker-Kolo has served as treasurer on the ATWS executive council for over nine years. In this capacity, she contributed substantially to the growth in membership, organized conferences and printed programs and essentially represented the organization’s institutional memory. As president, she would like to see the organization take a more active and involved role in the regions its members represent, in order to leverage its incredible intellectual capital for the needs of those communities.
“Besides pursuing scholarship and organizing conferences, we need to engage,” she said. “We need to connect not just with other scholars, but with organizations that we can support. We need to provide humanitarian aid and provide expertise to the governments of developing countries.”
In international forums like the UN, she would like to see the ATWS take strong positions and communicate those positions to the member states and other non-governmental organizations. And she would like to build on recent ATWS humanitarian initiatives, like raising donations for families of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria, and funds gathered to purchase equipment for hospitals on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.
“A lot of positive things are happening in Africa, but the focus of the world is usually on terrorism, poverty, or deforestation, and not on what Africa can contribute to the world. So I am excited to talk about this.”
In November, 2016, the ATWS will hold its annual conference at IU Southeast. For Coker-Kolo, it’s the perfect time and place to start this conversation.
“I hope it will create awareness,” she said. “The world is getting smaller, more interconnected. This conference can heighten the awareness of global issues among the IU Southeast community and Southern Indiana, and increase our level of engagement.”