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International cooperation series: Martial Dembélé’s involvement at the AUF

Martial Dembélé is a full professor in the Department of Administration and Foundations of Education at the Université de Montréal and brings his expertise in education and teacher training to the international arena. Professor Dembélé is a member of the scientific council of the Apprendre program (Appui à la professionnalisation des pratiques enseignantes et au développement de ressources: support for the professionalization of teaching practices and the development of resources) of the Agence universitaire de la Francophonie (university agency of the Francophonie, or AUF) and he agreed to meet with us to discuss his involvement.

Can you tell us more about this program?

MD: Apprendre can be seen as a support program for improving the quality of education in 26 French-speaking countries with limited resources, 24 in Africa in addition to Lebanon and Haiti. It aims to assist the ministries of education in these countries as a means of supporting the professional development of primary and secondary school teachers and improving student learning. The program has three main components. First, it provides ministries with national and international expertise for the benefit of teacher educators and pedagogical guidance and support personnel. Second, it contributes to strengthening and enhancing Francophone educational research, and last but not least, it establishes a partnership platform to support participating countries with the best of Francophone educational expertise.  

Tell us how you became involved?

MD: My involvement began in June 2019 when I was invited to join the program's scientific council. There I coordinate the activities of the research subgroup by organizing, among other things, the evaluation of research project proposals. We assign the selected projects to members of the scientific council to provide supervision and support for the winning national or multinational teams. I also act as the council's referent for the thematic expertise group entitled "Support for teacher groups and professional learning communities." To this end, I was heavily involved in preparing the program's Third International Seminar, held last February on this theme.

Can you describe your involvement in a nutshell?

MD: I would say it is very challenging, overwhelming at times, and professionally rewarding. What drives me is a desire to be useful to the education system of the countries that benefit from the program. I’ve been living in Quebec for 20 years, but I’m originally from one of these countries and I welcome any opportunity to contribute.

What challenges do you face?

MD: The main challenge is to reconcile what is at times a rather intense involvement with my regular duties as a professor at UdeM. The pandemic has exacerbated this situation in that we are forced to work remotely. Interacting with people who are in different time zones poses real challenges.

How will the participating teaching community benefit?

MD: The teaching community will benefit from enhanced international and national expertise. The program emphasizes, among other things, observation and analysis of teaching practices among peers, with the support of expertise from outside the school. This is a very promising strategy insofar as it allows teachers to take a step back from their practices, to question themselves, and to find ways of improving their pedagogy for the benefit of student learning. The seminar that I mentioned earlier provided an opportunity to take a closer look at this strategy.

How do you see this partnership between UdeM and the AUF unfolding?

For the AUF, the fact that we can count on the expertise of UdeM’s Faculty of Education is a big plus. I hope that other colleagues will be able to get involved and contribute to the program because our faculty has a wealth of expertise in various fields of education. This partnership also allows UdeM to contribute, in a perspective of sustainable development and international solidarity, to ensuring quality education for all. With outgoing faculty mobility, we can anticipate incoming mobility for both students and teachers alike. Research partnerships can also be developed with the researchers involved in projects funded by the program and supported by the scientific council.