A conversation with Dr. Hellen Inyega

Author: Sefira Fialkoff

In an interview with the Pulte Institute, Hellen Inyega, Ph.D., spoke about establishing an equal partnership with the University of Notre Dame, how she’s overcoming economic, social, and cultural boundaries, and how such collaborations enable research in complex contexts.

Inyega, with the University of Nairobi and the ResilientAfrica Network (RAN), partners with the University on the LITES (Language of Instruction in Education Systems) initiative. LITES is a collaborative study under SHARE (Supporting Holistic and Actionable Research in Education). It seeks to fill knowledge gaps in language acquisition by generating evidence surrounding language of instruction transitions and their relationship to learners' first and second-language literacy skills.

The Pulte Institute spoke with Inyega in August 2023 at the Pan-African Literacy for All (PALFA) conference. The PALFA Conference is a prestigious, interactive, and enriching global literacy event that brings educators and professionals together to strengthen literacy throughout Africa and worldwide.

Inyega is a Professor at the University of Nairobi, Department of Educational Communication Technology, and the principal investigator for LITES Kenya. Inyega's work centers on language, literacy, and special and early childhood education, and she teaches courses at all levels of the Kenyan education system, supervises students on placement in pre-primary to collegiate settings, provides advisement on academic research, and coordinates Ph.D. programs in Early Childhood Development. Inyega is also Senior Education Consultant for the World Bank and Senior Learning Assessment Expert for the ADEA Task Force on Education Management and Policy Support (TEMPS).


What has been your experience while partnering with the Pulte Institute?

Working with the Pulte Institute has enriched me as a researcher from Africa. I have had the good privilege of interacting with very skilled professors from the Pulte Institute. I have grown professionally in terms of research conduct, all the way from the research design, being able to put together research tools, being able to train the different personnel involved in the research project, and eventually being able to collect robust data, both qualitative and quantitative data, from the field. Now, we are in the process of analyzing this data, both qualitative and quantitative. So, the experience has been very enriching for me because I have interacted with people, improved my people skills, and more importantly, engaged professionally with researchers from the Global North.

What does global development mean to you?

Global development means looking at issues that are the heart of humanity and being able to intervene where it hurts the most. I think about restoring people's dignity. Many people around the world, [especially] in Africa, are concerned about learning poverty. That in itself can isolate someone and disenfranchise them. So, global development, to me, is the ability to restore these people's dignity so that they can read and navigate different texts and engage in a language they understand. So that they're successful not only in school but beyond and so that they contribute to sustainable development. Global development is concerned with eradicating poverty and improving the human condition.

Describe your experience collaborating with colleagues and partners from around the world.

It's really nice to be able to collaborate on projects. And for me, the Pulte Institute has enabled that to happen. I have met colleagues from the Philippines, Rwanda, Mozambique, Senegal, and Mali. Never mind that our languages are different. We can come together and enrich each other's experiences. Being able to really interact and go through the research and where we are at in our different points in that research has been very enriching for me. I made new friends from Rwanda just this morning; I sat with them. But more importantly But more importantly, really, the intellectual stimulation no money can buy that. We can meet together and have intellectual exchanges.

Tell us about the Pan-African Literacy for All (PALFA) conference.

This is a conference that comes together to speak about learning poverty and different ways of actually remediating learning poverty. We are concerned that Sub-Saharan Africa has been left behind. Many children are reaching ten years old without knowing how to read even a paragraph of text, which is alarming. So, we want to bring together different people to share their knowledge, innovations, experiences, and what has worked and how it has worked. Then, as we go back to our various countries, we can intervene and make the children actually read better to succeed in school and in life.