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Development of grant-funded educational research center underway in Caribbean

Assistant professor Patriann Smith, a native of St. Lucia, came to USF in fall 2009 to obtain a master’s in literacy and returned in 2019 as a faculty member. Since then, she has worked in partnership with The University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill and is now in the process of launching a center dedicated to expanding research regarding educational issues in Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.

Smith was awarded a three-year $3.6 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on March 29 to develop the research center in the Caribbean as part of the Caribbean Educational Research Initiative. This initiative will be funded by USAID until March 28, 2024. In partnership with UWI, Smith will create a repository for research as well as innovate and expand educational research at multiple levels across Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean.

Currently, Smith works virtually with project coordinator Coreen Leacock, senior lecturer of mathematics, as well as center director S. Joel Warrican, professor of education of language, literacy and cross-linguistic studies from the education department and director of the School of Education at The University of West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill.

Daily functions of the Caribbean Educational Research Center will include supporting research fellows, guiding research assistants, managing research activity, collecting data, updating representatives from each island about research progress and listening to the needs of stakeholders. Smith will continue to work virtually with UWI partners throughout the academic year. She as well as other USF faculty involved in the project will travel to the Caribbean to be involved in person each summer.

The grant will help the Caribbean islands achieve a repository for research, cultivate a research profile and support decision-making processes for educational innovation which can address educational issues on the islands, according to Smith.

Research in the Caribbean is difficult to locate because it is not often submitted to online databases accessible inside or outside of the Caribbean, according to Smith, which sparked her passion as well as that of her partners for developing this center. With the development of the center, Smith and her partners will work to implement and design decolonizing research methods and pedagogies in various subjects including literacy, math and science.

“Our goal is to have a repository for research, to build a research culture in the region so that when we act and make decisions in schools, or even beyond schools, for children, we are doing it based on educational research data that is culturally responsive and meets the needs of children in the Caribbean,” Smith said.

The center’s research will focus on and impact many islands including Antigua, Barbados, Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, according to Smith.

The partnership between USF and UWI Cave Hill will help the university create international ties that facilitate the exchange of research and information, according to Smith.

“We want to position the University of South Florida and the University of the West Indies equally as partners so that there is reciprocity in the exchange of knowledge and the exchange of an understanding of cultural differences across these boundaries,” Smith said. “We want to be able to support each other in terms of a two-way partnership.”

She said the important aspects of working in a global partnership are the opportunity for growth and cross-cultural collaboration.

“I think one of the powerful things about working on a global partnership like this is that we have an opportunity for extreme growth and understanding – cross-cultural, cross-linguistic and also cross-racial understanding,” Smith said.

In a time where research and resources are not readily available, Smith believes having the funds to properly impact research with the current funding is a powerful indication of what USAID embodies.

“We have ideas that are useful for the region and that USAID values in terms of an interdisciplinary focus, building research as a way to inform practice in the region,” she said.

“I think receiving funding also shows that USAID values the project’s ability to impact a research culture in the Caribbean and to inform what we do with research on the ground.”