PhD candidate wins prestigious Fulbright-Hays Fellowship

By

Meghan Krein

Atota Halkiyo (PhD Education Policy and Evaluation, ’22) has been awarded the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship Program. The fellowship is designed to enhance foreign language and area studies for future educators in the U.S. by supporting their dissertation research abroad. 

The Fulbright will support Halkiyo for nine months while he researches education policy in Ethiopia. Halkiyo says he’d like to turn his research into a book. Halkiyo is one of only two Arizona State University students to win this award this year. His dissertation committee, Iveta Silova, director of Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education; Mirka Koro, program director of doctoral programs; Meseret Hailu, assistant professor and Yeukai Mlambo, assistant professor helped Halkiyo with the intensive application process. 

Silova says, "Atota's research addresses a very important and timely issue—the role global policy borrowing in reforming higher education in Ethiopia. Theoretically sophisticated and contextually rich, his research uses a decolonial lens to critically interrogate the motives for and implications of international aid programs in Ethiopia, one of the few countries in Africa that had not been colonized by the European powers. Given its direct policy relevance, I am sure that his study will inform both higher education reform implementation in Ethiopia, and on the African continent more broadly, as well as international development practice globally." 

Here, Halkiyo shares the focus of his research and what he hopes to accomplish in Ethiopia. 

Q: What is the focus of your research? 

The title of my dissertation is, “Radical Policy Borrowing: An Intensive Inquiry into the Higher Diploma Program, a Radical Reform of Instruction and Assessment Methods in Ethiopia.” It centers around policy borrowing, particularly education policy borrowing in the form of best practices. 

My research will use the Higher Diploma Program as an example of a policy case used to transfer student-centered and continuous assessment pedagogies from Europe to Ethiopia. HDP is a compulsory teacher pedagogical certification program in Ethiopian higher education and aims to transform teaching. 

Teaching in Ethiopia is mainly teacher-centered and lecture-based. I’m curious as to why. Some local research attributes the challenges to the physical resource imbalance between Europe and Ethiopia, but there are student-centered methods options that require little or no resources at all. 

I plan to explore beyond physical resource constraints to the effective practice of the policy. I’ll research policy through the lense of history, rationale, politics, economics, society and culture, along with historic events, such as elections, government transitions and coups d'état. 

Q: What big challenges do you foresee?

Access to the Ministry of Education, and its turnover due to the current political transition in Ethiopia. A change in government is often connected with the disappearance of major policy documents, and this coupled with weak documentation practices may hinder the amount or quality of the data for some aspects of the study. 

Q: Why did you choose Ethiopia?

The Higher Diploma Program, the subject of my dissertation, is only implemented in Ethiopia. I’m also from Ethiopia (before becoming a U.S. citizen) and previously worked on the HDP. And, aside from Liberia, Ethiopia is the only non-colonized African country, which makes studying policy there nuanced and interesting. 

Q: How does COVID-19 affect your research and trip?

Due to the current international travel restrictions, the pandemic affects the time the fellowship and data collection start, which may delay my graduation. My physical presence is required to collect data because the Ethiopian government frequently shuts down the internet. 

Q: Now that it’s nearing an end, how was your experience at MLFTC?
I am forever grateful for the support and encouragement I received from the faculty and staff. I am particularly grateful for my faculty advisor, Professor Iveta Silova. She was supportive, flexible and understanding. My other committee members, Meseret Hailu and Mirka Koro, were also helpful in this process. Arizona State University is like home to me.