Updated: Jun 19, 2018
The inequalities present in our education system left Jessica Drury, English Language and Literature graduate, with a strong desire to get involved. Now, when she isn’t teaching, she’s involved with local and international organisations that work hard to ensure that education is delivered as fairly and efficiently as possible.
Name: Jessica Drury
Currently based in: Harare, Zimbabwe
Education: Gateway High School
B.A in English Literature (Rhodes University)
M.A in Global Development and Education (University of Leeds)
1. Your undergraduate degree was in English Language and Literature. A lot of Humanities programs are very broad which is both a plus and a negative because we have the scope to go into any field, yet the ambiguity of it all makes it difficult for employers to find a place for us. Did you find this was the case when you were at school and how did you manage it?
I was lucky I suppose in that I had no desire (or ability!) to do anything other than a Humanities degree. I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career and so it made the most sense to study subjects that I enjoyed and was good at, with the thought that I could decide on a narrower career path later. The Humanities teach all sorts of skills that employers highly value and I think it’s nonsense to believe that you will be unemployable with a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Social Sciences. Your degree does not prepare you for a career (unless you’re doing a very specialized course) – so don’t worry about it!
2. You spent five years teaching English Language and Literature at Arundel School. What did you gain from this experience and how did this help you in deciding to further your learning in education and development?
I love English and I love teenagers so teaching was a great fit for me (and, spoiler alert, I’m back teaching again (along with some other stuff). Teaching is an extremely rewarding career –you are always learning and growing and it is never dull (which a lot of other jobs are, believe me!). I wanted to move into the development field because I have always felt strongly about the inequalities within the education system in this country and around the world, and I wanted to explore education policy on a global scale. I had been given opportunity, while at Arundel to do some volunteer work in education and it was a natural progression for me.
3. In addition to teaching at Hellenic Academy, you are consulting for Universal Learning Solutions, a not-for-profit organization that aspires to bring reading and writing to as many children as possible by working with various NGOs and governments. What drew you to this particular organization and what does your role entail?
So I am actually teaching at Hellenic Academy and consulting for Universal Learning Solutions part-time. I love the development model at ULS that is unique among literacy NGOs in that it relies very heavily on local government buy-in (in fact, most of our projects are funded almost entirely through local government grants). I have project managed around Nigeria and am now managing projects in Namibia and South Africa as well. This means a lot of logistical planning for trainings; developing monitoring and mentoring models; developing educational support materials for teachers and officials; reporting on the projects for government and wider audiences; managing budgets – and a host of other things.Most of my work is remote though so I rely heavily on my teams on the ground to do the physical visiting and training work.
At a special training for our Northern Nigerian trainers in Lancaster, UK
4. You are clearly passionate about development and education, having spent time in various organizations including Cross Over Zimbabwe where you mentored untrained teachers working with vulnerable children in Harare as well as your current work with Universal Learning Solutions. Where does this passion stem from and where do you see yourself going with it?
I was full time at Cross Over the whole of last year working with teachers teaching vulnerable children from the local community. This along with numerous other experiences at home and abroad have shaped me forever. Education is absolutely the most important thing a government can invest in for its future. It gives people opportunity to understand the world they live in and gives dignity to life. Education is in my blood so I doubt I will ever not be involved in some way. I would love one day to be involved in Zimbabwean education policy making. Minister of Education perhaps?
At a holiday English camp for Cross Over
5. According to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), some of the highest rates of education exclusion are found in Africa. The same organization released a report in 2016, which revealed that only twenty-five percent of pre-primary teachers went through training. Given the work you’ve done and the experiences you’ve had, where do you think the problem lies and what can we, as ordinary Africans, do to alleviate these statistics?
This is a complex question that I’m not sure I can adequately address in this space. However, I will say that a big part of the problem is financial. Governments are not investing in the education of their people and in the development of an education model that suits an African context in the 21st Century. Where governments and other stakeholders are investing in teachers and bold educational reforms, changes are being made. We have the human resources, but they are managed poorly.
6. Are there any projects you are currently working on that you would like to share?
I continue to be excited about the work being done at Cross Over (see the Facebook page for more detail), as well as the pilot projects for ULS starting in South Africa and Namibia (you can follow these on Facebook too). Essentially all of these are looking to ensure that the foundations of reading and writing are laid well for the future.
Universal Learning Solutions staff delivering training
7. What does a day in the life of Jessica look like?
Yikes! Well I wake up at 5.15 a.m. to get ready to leave for school at 6.40 a.m. I start teaching at 7.15 a.m. and the school day ends at 1.30 a.m. If I have no extra-curricular activities, I then about 4 hours working on project management activities (calling people, working on material development etc). Most evenings I am busy with campaign activities (I volunteer on Fadzayi Mahere’s campaign for MP for Mount Pleasant), church or other social commitments. J Bed at 10!
Image: Campaign poster for Fadzayi Mahere
8. Finally, what advice do you have for those looking to make a difference in their communities?
Just do it! Decide what you’re passionate about, find out who’s working in your community on these issues and make yourself available – and then commit! Change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and sacrifice. If you want to find out more about Jessica's career journey don't hesitate to get in touch with her on LinkedIn or via email.