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Culver faculty travel to Tanzania to fight poverty through education

Tom Coyne
Culver Academies physics instructor Patrick Mulkerin spent part of his summer teaching in Tanzania.

Sept. 7, 2023

Culver Academies science instructors Chris Carrillo, Ph.D., and Patrick Mulkerin spent three weeks in Tanzania this summer mentoring teachers and working with students at a charity-funded school that strives to fight poverty through education.

The School of St. Jude provides free, high-quality education to more than 1,800 of the poorest students from the Arusha District in Tanzania in east Africa.  

Carrillo and Mulkerin went to the school along with teachers from three other American schools as part of a program called Kufundisha Pamoja, which means teaching together in Swahili. The goal of the program, started in 2013, is for American teachers to collaborate with teachers at St. Jude to exchange ideas and to provide professional development.

Carrillo first traveled to Tanzania in 2017 and has been back three times. This summer was his first trip back since the pandemic. This was the first trip for Mulkerin, who described the experience as inspirational.

“It gives you a renewed passion for what you do when you see both students and teachers so passionate about what they are doing,” Mulkerin said.

Chris Carrillo, Ph.D., Culver Academies master instructor and science department chair (second from left on bottom row), and Culver Academies physics instructor Patrick Mulkerin (far right) and teachers from three other American schools spent part of their summer helping at The School of St. Jude in Tanzania.   

Carrillo and Mulkerin said much of the work focused on how teachers interact with students. They said many teachers get in front of a class and lecture for an hour straight with little interaction with students.

Carrillo, chairman of the science department at Culver, said he worked with teachers on ways to diversify their teaching methods, such as how to help students work together in groups.

“Teaching them the skills of group work. Who figures out the information? Then when they deliver the information, make sure each student has a job of writing on the board, delivering, and keeping track of time. These are simple things, but skills they will use in the real world,” Carrillo said. “These are the things I’m trying to teach them to give their classrooms a more holistic wellness sense.”

He also worked with teachers on ways they can help with their students’ mental health by asking them questions as simple as: “How was your weekend?” Or, “How was your morning?”

“The same kind of things we’re trying to do here at Culver, emotional and wellness support. Simple things can make all the difference in terms of how a student works,” he said.

Mulkerin agreed that the social-emotional component of learning was the greatest need. He said there also is a need to teach more critical thinking where students are answering a scientific inquiry or performing an experiment.

The goal is to present ways that might help teachers do their jobs better.

The teachers and students are under tremendous pressure to succeed, Carrillo said.

“The students have to take government tests to stay in school. If you don’t pass the government test, you are out of school.  You can be out of school in eighth grade,” Carrillo said.

Because of a shortage of physics teachers in Tanzania, Mulkerin was asked to teach.  He called it “interesting” what they focused on, saying they taught toward passing government tests.

Culver Academies physics instructor Patrick Mulkerin working with students at The School of St. Jude in Tanzania.


Mulkerin said most schools in America focus on basic Ohm’s law, how to construct a circuit and how to make parallel vs. series circuits and how to solve for varying current resistances. Schools in Tanzania first learn things like drift velocity of electrons, which Mulkerin describes as a “pretty complex calculation that requires a lot of math with almost zero payoff. There’s not really any practical knowledge to be gained.”

But it is taught because it is on the government tests, he said.

Mulkerin described the students in Tanzania as disciplined, polite and eager to learn.

“Because they understand that education is their ticket out of poverty. They know they need to put their best foot forward when it comes to education,” Mulkerin said. “I assigned a couple of homework assignments on my second day of teaching the class. The kids said, ‘No, not enough.’ ”

“I said, ‘This is going to take you a while,” Mulkerin said. “They said, ‘No, we need more problems.’ So I ended up tripling the homework for the night and they thanked me for it.”

Mulkerin said the trip helped him get a better understanding of education in other countries.

“It makes you appreciative of what you have here at Culver,” said Mulkerin, who is in his third year teaching at the Academies. “But the people I worked with were so inspiring because their primary focus is so much on the students. They’re losing so much sleep thinking of the best ways to get their students to the next level. It’s really noble.”

Mulkerin said it was also a learning experience for him.

“The mark of a good teacher is you are always learning. You don’t need to be learning from somebody with more experience than you. Sometimes you can learn from somebody less experienced than you. Sometimes you can learn from your students. I probably learn from my students more than anybody else,” he said. “I think going there helped me become a better teacher.”

Culver Academies instructors Patrick Mulkerin (fourth from right) and Chris Carrillo (far right) and other American teachers pose with Maasai tribe elders and their sons. The American teachers are wearing traditional Maasai garb and took part in a traditional dance. 

The visiting teachers also got to do some cultural things during the visit, including going to local markets and seeing how indigenous Maasai herders live.

“They are cattle and goat herders who live in mud huts and take care of their animals. They are secluded from society, extremely old-fashioned and polygamists. The leader of the tribe had three wives and 19 children,” he said. “We saw some young children herding cows.”

They also went to three different national parks in three days for wildlife-viewing safaris.

“Going in I was thinking we’d be lucky if we saw an elephant. After three days it was, ‘Oh yeah, there’s another elephant,” Mulkerin said “We saw a good amount of lions, 10 or so. I thought we’d be lucky to see one. We probably saw a thousand zebras. More than you can imagine. “

Both men said the program was fulfilling. Carrillo said he enjoys working with the teachers from Tanzania and the teachers from the other three American schools: the Galloway School in Atlanta, Greensboro Day School in North Carolina and the Louisville Collegiate School in Kentucky.

“This team this year knocked it out of the park. We were able to deliver anything the school asked for,” Carrillo said. “I get to know all these people and see them providing professional development to the teachers and school leaders. These people are my friends.”

He said it makes him grateful for all the resources available at Culver.

“It resets me in terms of expectations of myself and my students,” he said. “It makes me feel good.”

Mulkerin was just as enthusiastic.

“If I were invited back, I would definitely go again,” Mulkerin said. “It was a very positive experience for me.”

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