Global health delivery: studying by doing

MITThe Financial Times has published a profile of how MIT is incorporating field work into classes on international development:

Global health delivery is an emerging field that looks at how healthcare can reach the neediest people in both wealthy and developing countries. “The formal study of global health delivery is relatively new and I thought it would be intellectually fulfilling to be able to contribute,” says Mr Newkirk.

This year he and several classmates spent three weeks at a clinic in the tiny rural village of Kipkaren, Kenya, helping to develop a subscription-based payment system for patients. When the team presented their ideas to the health centre’s staff, “the enthusiasm was overwhelming”, he says.

That Mr Newkirk plans to work as a consultant in public health after he graduates is music to the ears of Anjali Sastry, the Sloan professor who created the course.

“Our big problems on this planet will not be solved with one person’s brainwave,” says Prof Sastry. “What is required is collaboration. We need to be earnest, not cynical. We need to roll up our sleeves and figure out what works and what we can try next. That is what the class is about.”

Service learning generally is a growing trend in higher education, although far too many such efforts are too remedial to be of real use to the intended beneficiaries. An initiative such as the one described above, when connected with substantive investigation and informed collaboration, can a useful step toward moving beyond the empty papers-tests-and-projects model that leads students to view college more like doing prison time than a meaningful experience.

And if it gets you out of Boston for the winter, what's not to like?