Senior Thesis Series: Gender and Education in Developing Countries

Read about senior Meghan Magee’s Social Studies thesis about gender and education in Tanzania!

What concentration are you in?

I concentrate in Social Studies with a focus field in Gender and Education in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Can you summarize your thesis briefly?

My thesis explores the ways in which the Tanzanian socialist policies of ujamaa and Education for Self-Reliance (ESR) – implemented from the 1960s to the 1980s and characterized by a dedication to national unity, equality, and village agriculture – take shape in girls’ education within the nation today. In particular, it examines the SEGA Girls School of Morogoro as a case-study, for its position as a school that was founded by an American non-profit to serve vulnerable female drop-outs represents the national trend of out-sourcing schooling to foreign NGOs. I argue that while today’s educational policies retain ghosts of ESR discourse, the contrasting neoliberal context in which these former policies currently function limits the extent to which the state can control the policies’ effects within the school environment. Faced with conflicting educational goals, students view schooling primarily as a means of individual advancement in a globalized world, rather than a matter of community or national development. Finally, my methodology combines ethnographic observations, student and staff interviews, close readings of government and school documents, and secondary archival research.


Was there a particular experience or class that helped you get the idea for your research?

My Social Studies junior tutorial, Gender in Developing Nations, which just so happens to be taught by my thesis adviser, Meghan Healy Clancy, along with another one of her classes in WGS, Gender in African History, were both major sources of inspiration that exposed me to relevant issues in African gender studies. I was also able to take a class at the Ed School — Education in Armed Conflict — that allowed me to conduct research on education in Kenyan refugee with the UN Refugee Agency.


Do you see your findings having real-life applications? If so, what kind?

Girls’ education is a cause that is attracting a lot of major buzz in the non-profit, international development world right now with movements like The Girl Effect of Nick Kristof’s Half The Sky. While it’s an important one, it’s necessary to step back and realize that we can’t assume that education is a panacea or that girls are the perfect developmental agent who can solve all of the nation’s problems. We should not focus on mere access to education but realize that it is what happens in educational discourse, school environments, and the classroom that shapes the lives of girls and their communities.


What was your most interesting/most surprising finding?

My most surprising finding was that socialist language from Tanzania’s postcolonial past still has major effects on girls’ lives today despite the fact that Tanzania is no longer a socialist country.  To add yet another layer to this, despite this sustained dedication to schooling for the community, the girls have developed their own sense of individualism and definitions of community and family. The most interesting part of this for me was analyzing the interplay between government discourse, school rhetoric, and girls’ own perceptions.

What was the hardest part about the experience of writing a thesis?

While I (like many college students) am accustomed to starting and finishing a paper the night before it’s due, that’s absolutely not the way the thesis works. It’s a year long process that will you make you cry and smile and want to punch someone in the face. But at the end of that year, you will hopefully have something that you are far more proud of than a paper you wrote in 5 hours.


If people want to learn more about your topic, what sources would you recommend?

I would foremost recommend taking a class taught by Meghan because she’s an amazing scholar, educator, and adviser (and also has a great first name!). I would also recommend books like TANU Women by Susan Geiger, which explores the role of women in the Tanzanian nationalist movement, or Frances Vavrus’ Desire and Decline, which looks at gender and schooling amid crisis, also in Tanzania.

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