My Graduate School Experience

By Shafaat Ukishima

As I approach the end of my journey at Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude towards FUTI for their unwavering support throughout my studies. This past year has been a remarkable experience, filled with invaluable opportunities and profound relationships that have shaped my growth.

In my final semester, I delved deeper into my passion for early childhood education. It was during a cross-registration course at the School of Public Health that I grew interested in the relationship between public health and childhood education outcomes. Through this course taught by Professor Dana McCoy and Professor Aisha Yousafzai, I had the privilege of meeting esteemed experts and leaders in the field of early childhood, including guest lecturers from UNICEF, WHO, and many other known organizations doing work in the field. For my culminating project, I embarked on a collaborative journey with a student from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and another from the T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Together, we researched and prepared a comprehensive paper on Water, Sanitation, and Health (WASH) education.

Our focus was to address the issue of WASH-related malnutrition, particularly in relation to Environmental Enteric Dysfunction (EED), affecting children aged 0 to 5 in four indigenous communities in Guatemala. To tackle these challenges, we discussed two innovative interventions. The first intervention involved the development of an app-based water quality testing initiative, leveraging AI-driven image recognition technology. This technology enables instant testing of microscopic images of water samples for bacteria, providing vital information on waterborne diseases. The app also offers educational material on microscopic pathogens, their impact on human health, and the filtration process to eliminate contaminants. Our aim was to raise awareness about waterborne diseases and promote water filtration practices, all at an affordable cost. Complementing the water quality testing initiative, our second intervention focused on behavior change interventions targeting hygiene practices. By increasing awareness about effective handwashing techniques, proper cleaning of food and water sources, and regular compound maintenance, we aimed to reduce the incidence of waterborne diseases and their impact on the community. The opportunity to cross-register and collaborate with students and faculty from other schools enriched my learning experience and gave me insights into the different arms of government that must come together to execute new policies.

In another class taught by Professor Pamela Mason who is an expert in language acquisition for ESL learners, I had the incredible opportunity to delve deeper into the components of a strong second language curriculum. My personal background growing up in Ghana and teaching in Japanese international schools propelled my interest in this subject. It was during this course that I discovered a fascinating distinction: English possesses a deep orthography, while Japanese exhibits elements of both deep and shallow orthographies. This contrast profoundly influences the acquisition of English language literacy skills for children in Japan. Research substantiates that children learn more effectively and efficiently when taught in their mother tongue rather than in a foreign language. This realization led me to acknowledge that while schools that exclusively employ English as the medium of instruction facilitate immersive language experiences, Japanese students may not optimize their language learning potential as rapidly as they could have if they were taught English in Japanese. In the future, I hope to research more about the impact of English-only education on Japanese children.

My time at Harvard was also a fun-filled one. One of my fondest memories was during spring break when I visited Atlanta and had the opportunity to explore historic sites. I particularly enjoyed my visit to the Coca-Cola factory, where I learned about the origins of the beverage in Atlanta. I was not surprised to see the infamous line-up of Japanese vending machines displayed inside the factory. To top it off, I was treated to samples of over 100 distinct Coca-Cola products from various corners of the world. It was truly captivating to be surrounded by multiple drink dispensers, each offering a unique taste and cultural significance.

As the semester came to an end, a series of school events brought us together. At the HGSE spring formal, we danced and took numerous group photos to capture the memories we had shared as a class. It was a memorable night that further solidified our bonds and marked the culmination of our time at HGSE. We also found ourselves trying to create more opportunities to hang out, organizing get-togethers and dinners during the weekends. I invited my close friends over for some Japanese and Ghanaian food. Luckily enough, I found Pocky and Ramune at a local Asian store, so they got to try Japanese sweets as well!