Research for Innovation: A Conversation with Kelly Shiohira

Being a passionate advocate for equity and inclusion in education, we interviewed Kelly Shiohira, the Executive Manager of the Research and Data Ecosystem Division (R&DE) at JET

Kelly Shiohira, the Executive Manager of the Research and Data Ecosystem Division (R&DE) at JET, is a passionate advocate for equity and inclusion in education. Originally from the United States, Kelly came to South Africa with a mission to bridge the gap between children in disadvantaged areas, viewing education as a powerful tool to break the cycle of poverty.

In her role at JET, Kelly managed the R&DE division, which she describes as the "beating heart" of the organisation. The R&DE division is divided into four units: quantitative research, qualitative research, early childhood development, and assessments. Their mandate is to catalyze, collate, and generate insights to inform the implementation of education interventions both within and external to JET. Kelly emphasises JET's ability to identify and develop talent as a strength, noting the organisation's impact on thousands of people through its projects and initiatives. 

One of Kelly's favourite projects during her time at JET is the Jala Peo ‘Plant a Seed’ initiative, which brought communities together to support child nutrition through agriculture and community projects. She has also been privileged to work on research projects such as the African Continental Qualifications Framework (ACQF), where she contributed innovative recommendations to improve qualifications frameworks. Her work on AI for Education (AIEd) is also close to her heart, as she has been able to influence the international conversation around the uptake of AI in education policy internationally.

Reflecting on her time at JET, Kelly expresses gratitude for the opportunity to have worked with talented colleagues and contribute to meaningful projects. She acknowledges the personal and professional growth she has experienced within the organisation and takes pride in passing on her knowledge to a new generation of researchers who will continue to make a positive impact in South Africa.

Looking ahead, Kelly believes that JET's new strategy (2024-2026) should focus on leveraging research to develop robust and responsive educational systems. She encourages the JET team to work collaboratively across teams to drive positive outcomes. She advises the team to set the bar high for success, noting also the importance of recognising interventions that are not working and learning from setbacks, as well as embracing change and innovation to drive impact.

As Kelly prepares to transition from JET, she remains excited about the future of education in South Africa, particularly through initiatives like the Teacher Internship Collaboration South Africa (TICZA), the LEGO project and Bridging the Gap. She believes that with a strong team and a commitment to innovation, JET will continue to play a pivotal role in transforming education and empowering future generations.

After serving seven fulfilling and dedicated years at JET, Kelly Shiohira will be leaving JET at the end of February 2024 as she takes up a new position in the United States as the director of the Global Science of Learning Education Network. Kelly will be missed immensely, and we wish her well in this new phase of her life. Read the notice of Kelly Shiohira’s departure here.