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Paxton, Maheshwari-Kanoria to Receive 2024 Alumni Council Awards

Alums will be honored for their educational contributions at HGSE Convocation
Inset, top-bottom: Craig Paxton, Ed.M.'09, and Janhvi Maheshwari-Kanoria, Ed.M.'10
Inset, top-bottom: Craig Paxton, Ed.M.'09, and Janhvi Maheshwari-Kanoria, Ed.M.'10

The Harvard Graduate School of Education will honor two alumni — Craig Paxton, Ed.M.'09, and Janhvi Maheshwari-Kanoria, Ed.M.'10 — for their outstanding contributions to the field of education.

Paxton will receive the HGSE Alumni Council Award for Excellence in Education. Paxton is the co-founder and executive director of Axium Education, a nonprofit aiming to raise student achievement in rural South African communities he started with his wife, Michelle. Based in Zithulele in the Eastern Cape, Axium Education has worked the last 15 years pioneering rural educational improvement in the region, increasing the graduation rate in the region fivefold through work in more than 30 schools.

Maheshwari-Kanoria will be honored with the HGSE Alumni Council Award for Impact in Education. Maheshwari-Kanoria is the director of innovation for the Innovation Development Directorate (IDD) at Education Above All (EAA), a global foundation established in 2012 which aims to transform lives through education. Education Above All’s IDD works to identify persisting challenges in global education, designing and developing solutions that particularly impact hard-to-reach children in underserved communities.

The two winners will be presented with their awards at HGSE Convocation proceedings on May 22.

“We recognize the work and impact of our alumni to both celebrate what they have accomplished and to inspire the future work made possible by our ever-growing alumni community of thought leaders and change makers,” says Phil Chew, Ed.M.’20, co-chair of the HGSE Alumni Council. “We celebrate their work as a school because we know this work cannot be done alone. Instead, this is made possible and deepened by the faculty, staff, and students who have or will come through Appian Way.”

Paxton’s work with Axium focuses on the untapped potential of the rural students, teachers, and communities in rural South Africa. To tap into that potential, Axium’s work is highlighted by two flagship initiatives: the Nobalisa Literacy Programme and Public School Partnerships. The literacy program works to tackle three major regional challenges: unemployment, illiteracy, and a looming teacher shortage. The program currently delivers language lessons to more than 4,000 students using a Teaching at the Right Level approach, with a long-term vision to develop the program into a national, rural literacy program that produces Grade 3 learners able to read for meaning in their home language, as well as serve as a pipeline for work experience and teacher training.

Axium’s Public School Partnerships, meanwhile, bring together government schools, nonprofit school operating partners and private sector funders in an effort to increase accountability, capacity and flexibility in no-fee schools. Currently the only operating partner in the Eastern Cape Province, Axium is working with 11 rural schools that have shown encouraging progress across educational metrics.

“It's wonderful that the work of Axium Education is being recognized in this way, but at this point in our journey as an organization the work has become so much bigger than my co-founder and wife, Michelle, and my personal stories,” says Paxton. “We have an amazing team of more than 250 staff who are on the ground making a difference in children's lives each day — and that's what this award celebrates.”

Paxton touted Axium Education’s ability to build a local talent network of educators as well, noting that 90% of its staff comes from the communities its initiatives serve.

“We’ve proven what is possible. A rural-based, South African grown, woman co-founded nonprofit has grown to serve over 7000 learners each week, with hundreds of alumni now studying in competitive degree programs at universities and colleges across the country,” says Paxton. “Where once only exceptional students “made it”, there is now an established pathway from rural schools to opportunities to study further or meaningful work — and in many cases, there are routes to bring their skills back to their communities to serve in health or education.”

Maheshwari-Kanoria’s work with Education Above All attempts to free education and learning from the confines of schools and curriculum, creating solutions that focus on learning anywhere and anytime in order to open pathways to a better life. Educational solutions developed by EAA work to pair the needs of the learner with relevant information, including teaching Afghan refugees Survival English through flip books and activities in countries like the United States, Greece, and Qatar. The Directorate has created initiatives such as an award-winning Internet Free Education Resource Bank and developed an accredited alternate education offered by the Digital School Project.

“Winning this award is a moment to celebrate all those who believe in me,” says Maheshwari-Kanoria. “This award recognizes the importance of believing that we can innovate such that every child has quality learning irrespective of the context. The recognition emphasizes the importance of dogged persistence and not giving up or giving in on our path towards empowering all the world’s children.”

In the five years that Maheshwari-Kanoria has led EAA’s Innovation Development Directorate, its various solutions have reached more than 7 million learners in 17 countries and reported a 90% satisfaction rate from its partners. Maheshwari-Kanoria credits her own educational journey, including her time at HGSE, for allowing the opportunity to carry out EAA’s mission statement that education should not stop under any circumstances.

“I am fortunate to have had the education that gives me the confidence to stand tall in any room. I have been blessed with multiple champions who hold me to high-standards and support and celebrate me along the journey to get there,” says Maheshwari-Kanoria. “Most of the children I work with do not have access to quality learning, have no supporters and this limits their ability to dream. My work has been focused on being that champion for children by bringing learning opportunities to the most difficult contexts. This award helps me amplify a sense of possibility that innovative intent when combined with a desire to learn can light that torch of education in our darkest corners.”

The global reach of the work honored by this year’s Alumni Council Awards is another example of the seismic change those educated on Appian Way can have after graduation.

“Being based in a remote village in South Africa can leave you feeling disconnected from the rest of the world,” says Paxton. “A wonderful community like HGSE feels a long way away at times, so it's awesome to be reconnected in this way and to know that so many other inspiring alumni are out there working on great things in education and that our work with Axium is part of that network of people building a better world for our children.”


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