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As Fulbright Specialist, School of Education professor helps Angola transform education model

Mar 11, 2024

Indiana University’s Indianapolis campus is building a new international partnership with Angola that will lead to an exchange of students and faculty and create an online master’s degree opportunity for Angolan students thanks to groundbreaking efforts by a professor in the IU School of Education Indianapolis.

Roberto Swazo, a professor in the IU School of Education Indianapolis, works with participants during a training session on pedagogical c... Roberto Swazo, a professor in the IU School of Education Indianapolis, works with participants during a training session on pedagogical care while he was a Fulbright Specialist at Óscar Ribas University in Angola. Submitted photo Roberto Swazo, coordinator of the IU School of Education’s School Counseling Program, was the first Fulbright Specialist to go to Angola, spending five weeks in the southwestern African country in fall 2023. At Óscar Ribas University in the capital of Luanda, he introduced the concepts of socio-emotional learning, student-centered teaching and school counseling as part of the graduate learning experience.

As a result, the schools signed a memorandum of understanding that will build a relationship and create learning opportunities for faculty and students at both universities. The schools are creating a cohort of Angolan students to complete an online master’s degree through the School Counseling Program at IU Indianapolis.

“The School of Education is committed to expanding their networks beyond Indiana, beyond the state and go international,” Swazo said. “Dean Tambra Jackson is highly committed to doing this.”

The U.S. Department of State’s Fulbright Specialist Program sends U.S. faculty and professionals abroad as consultants to engage in education and training activities. Swazo has experience presenting about school counseling internationally, including in Russia, Mexico, Guatemala and Spain. He previously was a Fulbright Specialist in 2017, working at the University of Palermo in Sicily, Italy. His background and ability to communicate in Spanish, Portuguese and English helped him secure the opportunity in Angola.

“We are very proud of the leadership and work Dr. Swazo has contributed to the School of Education’s international efforts,” Jackson said. “The world is becoming more urbanized, so this work is important to the mission of the school and our focus on urban education and communities. Dr. Swazo’s experiences with the Fulbright Specialist Program will serve as our guiding post for other innovative international partnerships.”

Swazo said that Angola’s long civil war isolated it from other countries, particularly Western nations such as the United States. Since then, the country has opened up and invited experts from other countries to introduce new concepts and disciplines.

“I had the privilege of being the first Fulbright Specialist in the history of the country,” Swazo said. “The idea was to create a foundation for future scholars — not only from the U.S. but Europe — to come there to make an impact and transform the way they teach in colleges.”

Socio-emotional learning focuses on understanding the needs of the learner separate from the intellectual endeavor, Swazo said. A learner might come to class one day suffering from anxiety, depression, isolation, grief or a crisis at home.

“If we understand the needs of the learner and address the needs of the learner at the emotional level, then we’ll be able to impact the learner in a more holistic way,” he said.

School counseling is an American concept that doesn’t exist in Angola, Swazo said. The history of teaching in most African nations is rooted in the European colonial model of top-down instruction and students repeating and replicating what they had been told, Swazo said.

“The need was to create an expanded consciousness of the faculty on how to be more sensitive to the needs of the students,” he said.

Roberto Swazo provides information to prospective students about IU's Indianapolis campus at a college fair sponsored by the U.S. Emb... Roberto Swazo provides information to prospective students about IU's Indianapolis campus at a college fair sponsored by the U.S. Embassy. Submitted photo Swazo conducted workshops and consulted with faculty and staff at the university’s Center for Psychological Guidance. He also met with Angolan government officials and education leaders, including the American Embassy in Luanda. The training was on the Óscar Ribas campus, but it was also broadcast to other universities throughout the country.

“The faculty were eager and thirsty for knowledge; the students, likewise,” Swazo said.

As a result of the memorandum of understanding between the universities, Óscar Ribas University has started a pilot program that could lead to the creation of a master’s program there, modeled after the online master’s degree being created at IU’s Indianapolis campus to benefit Angolan students, said Arnaldo Faustino, a professor of pedagogical sciences and mathematics, and director of the Scientific Studies and Research Center at Óscar Ribas University.

Additionally, Faustino said, programs have been created to:

  • Instruct teachers about interpersonal conflict-resolution techniques.
  • Teach effective learning strategies, techniques and resources for academic success.
  • Train teachers and students in peer tutoring.

Swazo’s help was instrumental in laying the groundwork for these changes, Faustino said.

“He was able to encourage educators to exchange experiences, dialogue about different methodologies, the study of socio-emotional skills, the ability to resolve conflicts among other actions through shared planning and the exchange of experiences,” Faustino said.

Since Swazo visited Angola, the Óscar Ribas counseling system has been reorganizing based on the model he shared, said Inidia Rubio Vargas, a professor of pedagogical sciences at the university, a researcher at its Center for Scientific Studies and Research and coordinator of the Project of Psychological and Psychopedagogical Care. This includes offering services for emotional problems, changing pedagogical models to a student-centered focus, developing critical thinking and increasing attention to diversity.

“Dr. Roberto’s professional performance model has been very beneficial in terms of raising awareness among the participants to transform the vision of the teacher, as a facilitator who focuses his activity on the integral development of his students, considering the cognitive, social and emotional dimensions from the systemic relationships that are the basis for learning and development,” Vargas said.

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IU Newsroom

Kirk Johannesen

Communications Consultant, Strategic Communications

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