GSE Student Finds Simple Solutions to Complex Problems in Internship Abroad

June 23, 2014 – The idea was so simple, and yet new.

Turn the floor space under a classroom door into a protractor. Every time the door opens, a student can see how far 45 degrees is, and what’s a right angle.

Adam Roth-Saks – a student in the Graduate School of Education’s International Educational Development Master's Program – saw it in a report on a school in India that had used its floors and walls as a space for learning materials. It costs almost nothing, and can be replicated almost anywhere.

This is the type of thing that Roth-Saks and the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development were looking for. As an intern at the OECD’s Paris office, Roth-Saks is spending three months this summer combing through surveys sent out to programs in partner countries.

The goal is to find innovations that can open up educational opportunities for more children around the world. They’re especially looking for ideas that offer the chance to learn to low-income and marginalized children. Some ideas involve big, systemic changes. Some are as basic as a protractor on the floor.

OECD hopes to match the needs of one country with the innovations of another.

Roth-Saks is one of 25 IEDP interns working in 16 countries this summer, at organizations including UNESCO, UNICEF and several international NGOs. Recent graduates from this popular program have moved onto jobs designed to improve education around the world such as Results for Development, the Agha Khan Foundation, The Asan Institute for Policy Studies, and the Forum for African Women Educationalists.

The international internship is a requirement for IEDP students.

“The goal of the internship is to give students a hands-on opportunity to apply the theories, research and practical skills they’ve learned in the program in the real world,” said IEDP Associate Director Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher.

That has certainly been the case for Roth-Saks.

Before coming to Penn, he spent seven years with a company that organized faculty led trips to developing countries for universities, placed interns and worked with volunteer groups.  He would be the one to organize a trip, for example, for a nursing professor taking students to Peru to set up mobile clinics.

“I felt like I had the practical experience of running these programs, but I had no theoretical experience of development work,” Roth-Saks said. “I couldn’t tell you anything about human capital or economic theories of development.”

Penn GSE’s IEDP program was one of the few that offered him the chance to gain that experience in both education and development. His understanding shifted dramatically soon after he arrived on campus last fall.

One class studied the importance of using participatory methods in development: surveying the community before starting a project, getting ideas from residents and making sure a project was “based on the community and not some outside expert.”

In his previous work, Roth-Saks said, “we were not doing that.”

After he gets his Master's this fall, Roth-Saks wants to take those lessons, including the ones he’s learning with OECD, back into the world to find better avenues for social entrepreneurship in education.

Until the end of August, he’s living in an apartment in the 18th Arrondissement, just north of Montmarte. After work and dinner, he wanders the streets exploring the city until the late sunset.

“Ultimately,” Roth-Saks said, “the combination of the work I’m doing and being in Paris for the summer is unbeatable.”