Frances Vavrus


My research and teaching are in the fields of comparative and international education and development studies, and my principal interest lies in exploring how schooling is situated in these fields as a solution to a host of complex social problems. By looking historically at the cultural, economic, and political bases of arguments to bolster schooling for certain segments of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa—my primary geographical area of interest—I seek to advance understanding of the transformative potential of education as well as its limitations. My research is informed primarily by the disciplines of anthropology, history, and political science (especially international relations), and my principal work uses an ethnographic approach to explore how people make sense of educational development narratives that emerge from local, national, and international interactions. I also conduct research that utilizes critical discourse analysis and survey methods to address, respectively, questions regarding poverty reduction policies and the long-term impact of secondary schooling on the lives of African youth. My longitudinal ethnographic and survey research focuses on the Kilimanjaro Region of northern Tanzania, where I have intermittently lived, taught, and studied since 1992. I have been a teacher at the secondary and tertiary levels in the region, and I have been involved in a teacher education program for Tanzanian secondary school teachers and teacher educators at Mwenge Catholic University in Moshi, Tanzania. In addition to working with this higher education institution in Tanzania, I was the co-principal investigator on a USAID-funded project in Zambia working with faculty at colleges and universities to conduct policy-relevant research and have been serving as a consultant to the Open Society Foundations’ Education Support Program on a project with the Malawian Ministry of Education to improve their pre-service teacher education curriculum.