by Jenna Somers
Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of education and human development is working with the American University of Iraq–Baghdad to improve higher education and build a stronger teacher workforce in the region. The institutions were recently awarded a two-year, $2.5 million grant from the U.S. State Department to design and launch a new college of education focused on teacher training and development, with plans to seek Iraqi Ministry of Education approval for the college by fall 2023.
During the grant period, Peabody College and AUIB leaders will focus on achieving three goals:
- building institutional capacity based on three critical components: designing and launching the college with a K-12 pre-service teacher training curriculum; hiring and developing faculty and administration; and designing and piloting a strategy to promote an educational system modeled on evidence-based and culturally responsive teaching and learning;
- establishing progress toward accreditation by U.S. and Iraqi accrediting organizations; and
- supporting women and minorities in Iraq with scholarships, recruitment, course offerings highlighting gender equity, and services to increase graduation and retention rates.
Peabody College’s efforts in this partnership will be led by Xiu Cravens, professor of the practice of education policy and associate dean for international students and affairs, and Nancy Dickson, director of the AUIB project and former director of Peabody’s Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program, a Fulbright exchange program for educational leaders from developing countries. The Peabody faculty team includes Ellen Goldring and Erin Henrick of the Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations; Brian Kissel, Kristen Neal and Emily Pendergrass of the Department of Teaching and Learning; and Chris Vanags of the Peabody Research Office.
“Throughout its history, Peabody College has made important contributions to shaping educational outcomes and policy around the world by training educational leaders and teachers to transform learning environments and improve learning outcomes,” said Camilla Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development. “This grant provides a unique opportunity for our faculty and students to deepen our understanding of educational issues and strengthen our global engagement in today’s increasingly complex and volatile geopolitical landscape.”
AUIB President Michael W. Mulnix also noted the importance of this partnership. “AUIB is partnering with top universities around the world to develop an American-style university that will lead the way in Iraq’s rebirth and renaissance as a cultural and intellectual center for the Middle East,” Mulnix said. “Vanderbilt is one of the top universities in the United States and the world, and with Peabody College guiding the development of AUIB’s College of Education, the impact on teaching and education from kindergarten through doctoral studies will be felt in Iraq for generations to come.”
From 2011 to 2017, Peabody College partnered with Abu Dhabi’s Ministry of Education to build an early childhood education program, a system-wide principal training program and two demonstration schools. Since 2009, Peabody has hosted 150 mid-career professionals from about 80 countries as Humphrey Fellows, including 13 fellows from the Middle East.
Peabody College is consistently ranked among the top five graduate schools of education by U.S. News & World Report. In 2022, it ranked No. 1 in both Education Administration and Supervision and Special Education, as well as No. 2 in Education Policy, No. 4 in Elementary Teacher Education and No. 8 in both Higher Education Administration and Secondary Teacher Education.
Through the partnership with AUIB, Peabody College hopes to contribute to rebuilding the education system in Iraq. Conflicts and severe teacher and school shortages, compounded by the difficulties from COVID-19, have reduced the amount of time that Iraqi children spend in school to just four years by the time they reach age 18. Iraqi educators are in urgent need of training and support to promote student engagement, critical thinking, problem-solving skills and community building.
The partnership aims to design a culturally responsive college of education at AUIB that will train a new generation of educators and school leaders committed to evidence-based practices that promote a more just and prosperous society for Iraq.
“It is both humbling and invigorating to think about the challenges ahead,” Cravens said. “Our collective research and practice in different parts of the world have taught us the importance of being learners ourselves first and always. Our partnership with AUIB will focus on engaging Iraqi expertise and building local capacity in designing and delivering teacher education. This two-year grant will just be the first step, but you know what they say about a journey of a thousand miles.”
To ensure that AUIB’s College of Education is inclusive, a significant portion of the grant will go toward scholarships. In addition to focusing on supporting women, Peabody and AUIB will make a concerted effort to recruit people historically denied access to higher education due to financial, gender, ethnic and religious reasons, as well as those whose lack of English proficiency has prohibited enrollment in college-level courses.
The grant proposal was supported by Research Development and Support (RDS) which offers proposal development assistance for both private (foundations) and federally funded opportunities. RDS is in the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Innovation.