Nada Wafa ‘11, ‘19MS, ‘22PHD on Helping Educators Embrace Global Education, Teach About Cultural Issues

Nada Wafa

Nada Wafa ‘11, ‘19MS, ‘22PHD has always had an interest in global education, which intensified when she joined the New Literacies and Global Learning master’s degree program at the NC State College of Education.

Now a doctoral student in the Teacher Education and Learning Science program area of study in social studies education, Wafa is continuing to pursue her interest in global education by helping pre-service and in-service educators better understand how to teach about cultural topics.

She has helped organize two Feb. 20 workshops entitled Educating for Cultural Change: Approaches to Islam and Muslims Through Film. The workshops, which will offer PGU and CEU credits, will provide lesson plans and resources for teachers interested in teaching about cultural change through documentary films.

In the below Q&A, Wafa shares why she believes global education is important and discusses the work she has been doing in her doctoral program at the College of Education.

What initially sparked your interest in global education?

My interest in global education has always been with me throughout the years, but it initiated when I started in the New Literacies and Global Learning master’s program in the College of Education. My coursework, research and experience working at an International Baccalaureate school overseas helped me look more in-depth at what my research interests are.

Teaching about global issues was very inspiring and seeing students wanting to take action inspired me even more. In my courses and projects, we were asked to really think about what we want to expand our knowledge on, and global education was my calling.

I began connecting what I was learning through inquiry and technology/new literacies to what I am passionate about, and weaving them all together. I started to attend conferences, workshops and think tanks that expanded my horizons and network in this field. It has been growing ever since, and I do hope to continue to work toward my path in helping global education exist in new ways to benefit everyone.

Why is it important to you to help enhance global education? 

It’s important to enhance global education because we are living in a time where we need our students’ awareness and competence to be global. We are all working toward a better, sustainable future for all; and as a result, we can utilize our information and knowledge in more ways than ever before.

Teachers have the capability to work with students who will be our future. Education is very instrumental in preparing students to improve the world. And so, in education, people will begin to discover their common humanity with others, particularly those of different cultural origins and backgrounds.

In global education, it’s aligned with the concept of thinking and doing. Taking action is critical, and presenting that experience in learning is important in global education. Infusing global education in our current school system will establish opportunities that allow students to think about what they can do to make a change within their greater community, the nation and the world. The fact is that in global education, we are educating to improve the world, not just simply interpreting it.

Why do you believe it is important for educators to be able to teach about cultural issues in the classroom?

Cultural issues are significant because they will allow us to create that common ground between one another. Understanding cultural differences builds bridges and provides us with the capabilities to widen our perspectives and understandings of others, rather than the rhetoric image of what is portrayed in the media and outside sources. At the end of the day, we all have our human rights, and promoting cultural tolerance and understanding is possible to achieve through education and having the right tools.

Fostering interaction among people from different cultures, backgrounds and regions, as well as enabling students to experience other cultures and interact with people from different countries, are opportunities that everyone deserves.

To extend this a little more, I have been working closely with Unity Production Foundation (UPF) to mainstream their award-winning films in the classrooms. Their goal is to make history and social studies topics accessible, engaging and entertaining while also keeping them authentic by consulting with scholars. UPF’s mission is to share stories of different faiths and cultures, particularly Muslims, in a wider societal context. Some questions they target are: What are the histories and motivations of a particularly diverse group? How have other cultures impacted diverse groups, and what influence has it had on the world? These are some of the critical questions that UPF explores through their films.

How do you believe documentaries and similar formats can be powerful learning tools for students to understand the world around them?

The UPF film documentaries are certainly a powerful learning tool for students to understand the world around them because it reveals a visual representation of the true meaning of being an American Muslim. These documentary films have resources, lesson plans and accessible materials that are specifically designed to meet state and national teaching standards, making them authentic learning tools for teachers. They have been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the United Institute for Peace and many other foundations.

It has been difficult for us in recent times because the portrayal of Muslims or other ethnic groups is based on the directors’ and producers’ viewpoints. They can sometimes be misunderstood to speak for an entire race or demographic. As a result, films and documentaries from authentic and reliable sources like Unity Production Foundation allow us to have tangible work and resources to present and share.

In January you had the opportunity to present your research at the International Conference on Education and Global Studies in Japan. Is there anything in particular that stuck with you from that event/experience?

It was an incredible experience listening to presenters and presenting at the International Conference on Education and Global Studies in Japan. Immersing myself in a new culture was important and it allowed me to understand, appreciate and develop the agency to become more engaged in the environment around me. The Japanese society is very unique in its way of life, and I appreciated the calamity and environment that people live in.

There were many things that will stick with me from my experience in Japan, but it was an amazing experience networking with other researchers, professors, faculty/staff and graduate students at the conference. There was a wide population of people who came from different parts of the world, such as Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, South Africa, Australia, Kuwait, Jordan, India, etc. Hearing other research really put me on the spot, and it allowed me to define how privileged and lucky we are to be in the nation we are in right now, and how we can and should continue to improve our way of life.

What do you most hope to accomplish through your Ph.D. program at the College of Education? 

At this point in the program, I hope to be able to continue working toward my goals in acquiring more knowledge, working with our outstanding faculty and working through meaningful and impactful projects that will inspire me to continue moving forward within the field of social studies and global education. I hope to work through our past and present to create a better future.