Teachers’ Perspectives on Inclusive Education in India

Distinguished Fellow, Professor Maya Kalyanpur further explores the topic of inclusive education in India in a low-fee private school.

Primary schoolteachers in a low-fee paying, private English medium school in a low-income neighborhood in Mumbai, India, were interviewed on their perspectives on inclusive education. The school was established in response to the liberalization of economic policies in India in the early 1990s that sought to provide alternatives to the existing government-run public education system, which had proven unable to meet the demand for schooling for all. English medium private schools catered primarily to affluent families, whose children then benefitted from access to the colonial legacy of an English-based higher education system. By charging low fees and offering instruction in English, the school attracted parents from the neighborhood who wanted their children to learn English, recognizing it as a passport to success, but could not afford a more expensive private school. All the children spoke a language other than English at home and were being introduced to both conversational and academic English, for the first time in school. The study situates itself within the current debate on low fee-paying schools. Some scholars assert that the government being unable to meet the demand for quality education, private schools are better than nothing at all (e.g., Tooley, 2009) while others have argued that private schools exploit low-income parents’ aspirations for their child to access top tier higher education by offering poor quality education (e.g., Nambissan, 2012; Sarangapani & Winch, 2010).

Based on ethnographic interviews and classroom observations conducted over a four-month period as well as an analysis of policy documents, this study focused on what inclusive education meant to six teachers within the context of the national “no fail” policy which requires that students be promoted regardless of their academic performance until the eighth grade. Three themes emerged: (a) despite an awareness of the benefits of child-centered learning, teachers focused on teacher-led instruction, with a strong emphasis on rote memorization; (b) their limited pre-service training not having provided them with the strategies to respond to the needs of those who struggled to learn, teachers engaged minimally with these students and held largely negative views of them and their home backgrounds; and (c) in a highly competitive context and a strongly hierarchical system where the teacher has considerable authority over parents, teachers are not accountable for ensuring that students learn.

Photo from a classroom in India courtesy of Educate Girls Globally (EGG)

With a minimum of 60 students in their classes, the teachers struggled to ensure that students acquired the academic language while meeting the curriculum standards that would enable their students eventually to pass the state-mandated school completion exam in Standard Ten exam to enter pre-university. While their own middle-class backgrounds had enabled them to go to middle tier private schools where they had learned English, they too rarely spoke the language at home. Classroom observations corroborated their efforts to teach in a language that was unfamiliar to the students and equally cumbersome for the teachers. In the end, they reconciled themselves to teaching to the top two to five percent of the class. Instruction was primarily teacher-led. The standard format for lessons was an opening introduction to the lesson, which mostly consisted of the teacher reading from the textbook and offering translations or clarifications as needed. The teacher then recorded the main points of the lesson on the board and for the rest of the class period the students copied these notes from the board into their notebooks. Students who were able to do so within the remaining time shared their notes with those who were not. Although the teachers mentioned having received training on using child-centered instruction and had some play materials available to facilitate this, these materials or strategies were rarely used. During initial observations, teachers did pull them out to show the researcher and even some in one or two lessons, but over time, they fell back on their habit of teacher-led instruction. Informal assessments of the students by the researcher found that most of the students had memorized the notes from each lesson with very little understanding of their meaning and were able to apply this learning to similarly worded or duplicative questions for the school’s month-end examinations.

All the participants held fairly negative views of the struggling students and would often make reference to their family background in terms of their parents being uneducated. Many of these students came from particularly low socio-economic backgrounds and received state-supplied free uniforms and some fee subsidies to attend school. The students were either bunched together at the back of the class or made to sit next to an academically successful student who was expected to share their notes with them. Again, during initial observations, teachers did check on these struggling students’ performance in class, but over time, they engaged minimally with them. According to the teachers, in every class, there were inevitably five to six students who would be at the bottom of the class, and who would have been held back if the “no fail” policy were not in place.  They were ambivalent about the policy: they acknowledged its disadvantage- that students would keep getting pushed up the grades without learning the curriculum and would possibly drop out at the eighth grade, but also identified its advantage in that the students would not be their concern after this school year was over.
The teachers strongly held the view that parents were equally responsible for ensuring that the students were academically successful.  According to them, responsible parents arranged for their child to attend remedial classes, or private group tutorial services offered in the morning for students who attended the afternoon shift in school and in the afternoon for students who were in the morning school shift.  Some teachers offered special after-school sessions on Saturdays to go over the content covered through that week and openly berated the parents, when they came to pick up their child, for not taking responsibility for making sure their child had the necessary notes (or “portion”) and for forcing the need for these make-up sessions.  The study argues that, despite efforts towards education for all, the poorest of the poor continue to be the most disadvantaged in terms of access to quality education.

Meet Maya Kalyanpur

References

Nambissan, G. B. (2012). Private schools for the poor: Business as usual? Economic & Political Weekly, 47(41), 51-58.

Sarangapani, P. M. & Winch, C. (2010). Tooley, Dixon and Gomathi on private education in Hyderabad: A reply. Oxford Review of Education, 36(4), 499-515. DOI: 0.1080/03054985.2010.495465

Tooley, J. (2009): The beautiful tree: A personal journey into how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves. New Delhi: Penguin.

A Research Project That Had To Be Done

Here’s a timely blog on Syrian students from Distinguished Fellow Professor Ira Bogotch…

In October, 2016, as I boarded the Porter Airlines plane taking me to Ontario, Canada, and, then in November of that year, boarding Eurowings to Germany, I had many questions and just as many assumptions, not the least of which was `why was I traveling to Canada and Germany to study school integration of newcomers from Syria?’ As a US citizen, and as a Jew, US policies governing immigration, both legal and illegal, are not so much being debated reasonably as a policy conversation, but rather are being viewed today as a singular litmus test contributing to the political divides in the country, if not also the world. Make no mistake, immigration laws should be on the table for extended debates in all fields of study and in all societies. Yet, according to estimates made by the Pew Research Center nearly 13 million Syrians have been displaced after seven years of conflict in their country. Approximately 6 million people within Syria are displaced having their homes and towns destroyed. While the other 7 million have been able to seek refuge in other countries. These countries include Turkey (3.4 million), Lebanon (1 million), Jordan (660,000), Germany (530,000), Iraq (250,000), Egypt (130,000), Sweden (110,000), Greece (60,000), Canada (54,000), Austria (50,000), and the United States (33,000) (Connor, 2018). Of course, some of these countries have done so by setting up strict selection criteria, including Canada and Germany.

Despite this alarmingly high number, most of the international community has done little or nothing in the face of this humanitarian crisis. Even today, the isolationistic and xenophobic policies perpetuated by so-called Populist and Nationalist administrations, including the US not only restrict people from certain Muslim countries from entering the US, but restrict all legal immigration pathways as well.

While it is a privilege as an educational leadership researcher to decide which of the many significant events happening in the world are worthy of research, I felt compelled to study [im]migration. Specifically, I wanted to capture the in-the-moment voices of educators who were called upon, involuntarily, to serve these newcomers. It was often left to the frontline educators to educate themselves on what was happening, sharing information and alleviating their own stress. The effects of the newcomers’ traumas emerged, expressed physically through violence and psychologically as somatic complaints. The educators quoted newcomer statements such as “my soul feels dark,” “my heart feels squeezed” and conversely “I feel human again,” “I have rights,” “I can contribute to the community,” and “I can say `no’ without fear of retribution (prison or disappearance).’ All these explicit emotional statements brought stress to both the individual educators and onto the school systems as a whole, as everyone involved had to learn to cope with integrating the newcomers.

I personally fight for the future of my students (or I fight against their shared past/trauma). It is for me a really challenging when they tell me about their trauma but I think it has made me grow as an individual.

I quickly found that the name `intensive class’ also meant it would be intensive for me as a teacher.

Yet once on-the-ground, when asked why I was studying Syrian school integration, the most honest response had nothing to do with my expertise or any singular research agenda. Rather, I replied, “that I had to.” In other words, I wanted to connect directly to this humanitarian issue not only to advance my own learning, but also to push myself and the field of educational leadership beyond its ever-present managerial lens which focuses primarily on how best to run schools and school systems. Educational leadership, for me and I hope for you, too, has a larger purpose in educating children and adults towards a more democratic future internationally. Educational leadership, again for me, is deeply personal – even as I study abroad.

Other “had-to’s”

Educators have had to manage their own stress, borne from of a commitment to make educational, social, economic and political differences. Their message was, and still is, one of hope and optimism; it is also a message not often not heard beyond schools by citizens and politicians. Thus, our responsibility is to give voice to their optimism in hopes of disrupting anti-immigrant discourses and hateful narratives now heard around the world.

While some federal funding was provided for the education of Syrians (i.e., children and adults) in Canada and Germany, School Boards and school not only had discretion, but also had to make do with existing resources-necessitating creative and innovative ways to meet educational demands for all K-12 students.

German language teachers were moved into German as a Second Language classrooms and school administrators had to not only rely on the good will of their faculties to meet new enrollment needs, but also had use funding “tricks,” such as replacing pregnant teachers on leave with retired teachers to cover newcomer classes.

Although many of the Canadian schools had tens of other spoken foreign languages, Arabic was prioritized as were the Syrians. “We had to get more teachers, social workers, and administrative assistants as the time went on, all of whom were needed to welcome and schedule families and students.”

Recognizing that many Syrians had interruptions in their formal education, there had to be a relearning of how to sit in a classroom and follow school-rules. “We’re sitting these 6’4” guys in a desk asking them to learn something, while they are attached to their phones because they are wanting to know what happening with their family in Syria. They are not necessarily present and they’re forced to sit for a long time and not be active…”.

When we asked whether the school or school system was in support of newcomer education, the responses were always positive and optimistic. In one extended conversation with a Canadian educator, she explained how a systemic approach to newcomer education, from welcoming students and families to second language classes to addressing trauma among the students was far better than when administrators or teachers had to individually address problems and seek out “heroic” solutions. The building of support systems and inter-agency relationships across responsibilities was deliberate and beneficial for it allowed for educators not only to hand-off problems to others, but to have confidence that the system would work and students/families would not fall through the cracks.

What characterized the autonomous German schools, which had to depend upon individual actions taken by the German educators themselves, was that they were far less formal and loose in comparison to the Canadian support systems. While it was clear to us that the surge had brought administrators and language teachers much closer together, the issues of newcomers were not always being addressed school-wide. In fact, with tight schedules and shorter school days in Germany, it was difficult for the German as a Second Language (GSL) teachers to find time and space to communicate with regular teachers about their immigrant students.

Even in the best of circumstances, educators face institutional barriers as they do their daily work. What was the same in both contexts was that the integration of newcomers, particularly in early 2016, came with a continuous sense of urgency and change to the way things had to be done. In the context of Canada, this urgency and change were met systemically with innovations and many structural supports; while in Germany, the urgency and change was matter-of-factly incorporated into individual educators’ personal, professional and cultural responsibilities without very many systemic supports.

Not Refugees

Language reflects the attitudes and values of its speakers; in Germany, rather than referring to refugees as Flüchtling, a term directly related to their status as asylum seekers, refugees are given the title Neuzugewanderte, which means ‘Newcomer.’ The terminology that has developed around the Syrian refugee crisis speaks to the host country’s attitude towards today’s asylum seekers. The very essence of successful school integration in the two contexts is the objective of German/Canadian residency and citizenship for the Syrians.

As it was explained to us during one of our early interviews in Canada:

I just wanted to tell you that I don’t use the word refugee. I was taught by our settlement worker in schools that they’ve found refuge here, so they are newcomers from Syria; that is how the language that we use: newcomers from Syria. Other people refer to them as Syrian refugees but that’s a derogatory term from what my settlement worker in schools has said; so, if I was to read your [chapter], and it said Syrian refugees, I would put it aside because I would think you don’t know what you’re talking about. You should know that our language is newcomers from Syria in whatever you write.

Settling upon the term “newcomer,” is also in line with the concept of social justice, a term much maligned by specific segments of today’s US popular culture. Instead of looking to redress inequities both in schools and society, conservative commentators refer to social advocates as “social justice warriors,” or “socialists” who want to redistribute wealth. Yet, the meanings of social justice are both cultural and political and grounded in the need of individuals and communities (Bogotch, 2002, 2008, 2014). In this sense, social justice is also contingent upon situations and contexts in the environment, sometimes aligned with humanitarian issues, but many times not. Social justice, like attitudes and policies towards immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers, is a matter of political will and economic development. Global citizens as well as many world governments today seem to ignore immigrant contributions to economic growth when it does not fit their nationalistic narratives. It is such ignorance and paradoxes which challenge the quest for educational leadership for social justice.

Meet Ira Bogotch

Living and Working in Education Along La Frontera

Recently I asked the following questions of GlobalEd Leadership’s Distinguished Fellow Professor María Luisa González…

Photo MLG

 

First, tell us a little about yourself.

First and foremost, I am a child of the borderlands. I come from long standing families that resided on the border before the first Europeans came to this area and before the land was fought over by different countries. I will begin by adding some background because I feel that in most of our lives our background helps explain who we are and why we do what we do. As others before me I need to provide a brief background on both parents–thus offering some of the recognition they deserve.

My grandmother had lost all her wealth during the Mexican Revolution and like many other immigrants who are also border people my grandparents owned property on both sides of the border. Luckily for her and her seven offspring they survived financial challenges and all were raised in the US and attended schools there. By the time my father and his two brothers were of college age there was no money to send three sons to US universities. Instead they attended the best university in Mexico–the UNAM (the national university in Mexico City). Two brothers studied law as their father had. My father chose another profession—medicine–and his was a tougher road to follow since he had to acquire new knowledge along with learning Spanish that he hardly understood well academically. Thus, he insisted that his children learn a minimum of three languages and never face the discrimination he faced.

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Mexico City’s UNAM campus

He completed his training where he was supervised and mentored by doctors trained in the US and Europe. His social service as they call it in Mexico was spent caring for indigent patients. When it was time to return to the US he was recruited by one of the top hospitals in the US at the time—the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital–that provided services to the richest people in show business. He was the only Mexican and the only person of color to ever ascend to Chief Resident status there. His preparation in a country south of the border had prepared him to serve the rich. When he passed the Boards, he was promised partnerships in some of the most prestigious medical practices.

On the other hand, my mother had supported my father and me through his medical internship and residency in California. She ascended the ranks of Civil Service and had the highest security clearance of women in her area. She was in charge of security for all the plans and documents related to the first atomic submarine built—the Nautilus. She had lost both parents at the age of nine but loved school. She was unable to complete high school as she had to help provide for her younger brothers and sisters. Later, she went to live in Chihuahua City Mexico with an aunt who could help send my Mother and her oldest sister to a well-respected bilingual secretarial school (English and Spanish). Thus, Mom who had attended schools in the US was also prepared to work in the different American and British companies that existed at the time in Mexico. This schooling proved transcendent in her finding employment in the US after she and Dad married.

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Malú moves from Hollywood to La Frontera

When the time came to decide whether to stay in Los Angeles and follow a lucrative medical career there, my Father could not accept that way of life. He felt his only choice was to return to the border—where he knew he could make a difference. He felt he had a gift as an MD and an obligation to care for those who normally could not access medical care. Both parents were never centered around money. Their lives’ values consisted of making an impact by giving and helping others.

Thus, I was their first born (eventually there were four children) living in Hollywood, California, USA. We lived there until I was about 4 years old and then we returned to the border. I grew up in a small part of an over 4,000-mile stretch of border between Mexico and the US. This incredible setting of living on two sides of a bridge that separated two countries offered me numerous advantages that one receives when one lives a bifurcated life. There was a basic familial expectation—we had to master two languages, two cultures, two histories, and that we be able to “maneuver” in two distinct settings. Socially we were expected to make transitions that were immediate. Two cities separated by a bridge where one had to remember to change hours on a clock or watch because we were also separated by two different time zones. We also had to change currency in our mind if we were to buy anything. We switched languages and had to learn to function on immediacy. There was never a choice it was our way of life. I crossed the border twice every school day from first grade through graduation from high school. I saw poverty in one country on a daily basis and less poverty in the other. I would readily live in a third world country and spend time in an industrial nation by crossing an international bridge.

This incredible setting prepared me to accept those and that which is different from my own experience. I see this as part of a border dynamic. I cannot fathom living in a monocultural setting. I expect to see multicultural and multilingual humans around me. Thus, I enjoy traveling and living along the border.

Bridge connecting the US and Mexico

Over your career as a professor of educational leadership and as an administrator in higher education you have written and spoken about many issues of social justice. Why did you choose these areas?

I would like to clarify that I came to the professoriate with extensive experience in the public schools and the different settings presented. I worked in teaching, supervisory, and principalship positions. I worked in schools serving the military, a country club school, rural, barrio, and inner-city populations. I worked with undocumented immigrants whose parents worked two to three jobs to make a living. My life on the border prepared me well for all of these positions. While I saw an overabundance of resources at the country club school I understood that this could be a reality for all the other schools with limited resources to attain. Thus, it was instrumental in my fight for social justice in education. Thus, the university classroom was a springboard to make our students aware of their responsibilities relative to providing the best educational experience for all children– regardless of their citizenship or socio-economic status. I cannot think of any other area of education that I would choose to work in. I have also worked in the ramifications of language learning and the impact on special education services. They are a part of my life force. They are my raison d’etre.

What have been a few milestones in your career?

It seems that I have followed my parents’ trajectory into breaking new ground in their own jobs. When I graduated from my doctoral program, from a university located in a border setting with a predominately Hispanic population, I was the first Hispanic woman to receive a doctorate from that program.

I was recruited several years later when I served as a principal with the Dallas Independent District to apply for a faculty position at my alma mater. Once again, I returned to be a “first” –I was hired and at the time I was the first Latina at the university hired in a tenure track line.

I ended up serving as the first female Hispanic department chair–a position which I held for ten years. The department grew in size, in color, and in gender. We also were able to develop programs that became recognized nationally. For several years I held the highest administrative academic position at that university.

I also served the University Council of Educational Administration as the first Latina president during a time where there were very few professors of color participating. In fact, we could count those professors of color on the fingers of both hands. This has changed dramatically over the years and I am now proud to say that we are making strides in reaching equity.

In all of the aforementioned positions I have held in academia I have faced many challenges. However, it did help to listen to my parents as they shared their struggles with discrimination during the 50’s. I just felt that 40 years later things would have changed, sadly not. While I met and continue to meet individuals who will see women or people of color and immediately think that we are undeserving. Unfortunately for those who see differences as deficits their world will continue to be so limited. I am fortunate to have encountered in my lifetime more caring and engaged individuals than those who are not.

Tell us about some of the projects that have been particularly important to you and why.

My major thrust in grant writing was to develop leaders to serve successfully in educational border settings and with immigrant populations. I will mention only a couple of these.

The first major grant project was born out of a need to develop educational leaders who could understand PK-20 educational border issues and work on strengthening ties on both sides of the border. The funding came from a major foundation in the US and was for a $12 to $14 million-dollar amount. It was a doctoral program in conjunction with Arizona State University and the University of California at Riverside. Other institutions joined in this collaborative effort to prepare doctoral students to develop US educational leaders to become leaders on both sides of the border. The initial plan was to have students conduct residencies on both sides of the border in political settings. They were also to take coursework from the different disciplines but plans changed. The grant paid for multiple students across the United States and all of were of Mexican/Hispanic descent. All students completed their degrees and chose to work in public school systems or university settings. The group became extensive as different universities along the border US-Mexico states joined the program.

The other grant that I will mention was in conjunction with two border educational systems on the US side. The focus was to study the issues of Hispanic students attending schools in the United States and building higher expectations among the parents of these children. Thus, the development was for principals who could identify curricular programs with their teachers to reach these children who were immigrant students. At the beginning of the program there were reluctant school administrators who refused to engage with the program. They felt that the focus on Hispanic children and their needs was not what was needed. With the use of data, they understood they could no longer neglect the needs of the majority of the students in their districts. The students obtained a master’s degree and certification with a special emphasis on serving linguistically and culturally different students. All students with the exception of one who chose not to leave the classroom are serving as school principals or central office administrators.

Were you involved in education policy at the state or national levels? 

I was fortunate to be involved at both political levels. At the state level, I testified each year at the different legislatures and the different educational committees. I spent Untitled4considerable time trying to make legislators aware of border education. I had contact with several of them and invited them to participate in school visits where my graduate students served to make clear issues that were impacting border schools and in which politicians could help out.

At the national level, I supported the work of an individual who spearheaded the rights for homeless children and runaway youth. I served as principal in a school in Dallas that served children from homeless shelters and remained in contact with any group who fought for the rights of these children. I had the honor of reading and reacting to the McKinney Act for Homeless Children. Our school received national congressional recognition for its work with homeless children. 

Who were some of your role models and how did they influence you? 

I have been very fortunate to find mentors who are also heroes at every stage of my career. I just completed a chapter on six educators who fought for bilingual education in this state. Each of them became a personal friend but they were instrumental in my learning to become a voice and act for the rights of those who cannot.

I have mentioned the mentorship I received from my parents as being a great gift. I also found colleagues when I was in Pk-12 education with whom I collaborated to improve our teaching. I have been lucky in finding individuals who know so much more than I do. Even in my students from grade school several followed a teaching career. Another is running for much contested state senatorial office and has laid out a socially just platform. Students offer us so much regardless of age.

In the Academy, I met a woman who has remained my mentor until now. She was the first Latina professor whom I met at a conference and has received every award in our field. She is truly an incredible individual and scholar. We first need to be human then we can celebrate our contributions to the academy. She remains intact in both worlds.

There are also a group of my doctoral students whom I respect greatly. One will be the third woman to be president of UCEA. I greatly admire her work with her advisees. She is exemplary as a professor and a woman. Another is a professor serving at a HBCU where he is focused on social justice and building community with those who feel disenfranchised. There are several as part of a group of the “younger generation of professors” who are beginning their careers in academia. While I try to be supportive and accessible to them I learn more from them than they from me.

The list of colleagues is so plentiful that it enriches my life. I am glad that I spent the number of years I did in academia and that there continue to be multiple opportunities for further involvement especially now given the political outlook.

Meet María Luisa González

 

 

 

 

Becoming an English Language Specialist in the State Department /Georgetown University Program

Former Community College Professor Jane Theifels describes several initiatives she has led as an EL Specialist for the US State Department…

May of 2011 was approaching, a magic date for me, the time of my retirement from 32 years of  ESL Teaching at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

However, instead of staring ahead at a blank screen, I held two future prospects on my horizon.  First, I was now a registered nurse, having studied in my college’s two-year evening nursing program, while teaching during the day. I was following  my dream of going on medical missions to other countries.  Secondly, I enrolled in the English Language Specialist Program sponsored by the US State Department and Georgetown University.

I discovered the EL Specialist Program at a TESOL information session.  I knew it would be a perfect fit for me on retirement.  I would become part of a database where I could be notified of English opportunities abroad, ranging from two weeks to several months. These opportunities would arise when a Ministry of Education in a particular country approached the US Embassy there asking for an English Language Specialist to fill a special need.

Collaboration

In 2014 I answered a request to go to Togo to do teacher training in interactive methodology in the capital, Lomé, and in three villages outside the capital.  Fifty chosen teachers came to each village training from afar and were lodged for the 4 days in retreat houses.  Four Togolese teacher trainers also each had a session on one of the conference days. My focus was on Active Grammar, the Interactive Classroom, Writing, Learning Styles, and Gender Equality.  The response was overwhelmingly positive for all of us.

In 2016 there was a request to go to Benin for six weeks and travel throughout the country conducting a survey of English language teaching with the Assistant to the Minister of Higher Education and a retired English Language Inspector. This survey was to pave the way for the introduction of English in the public primary schools. Five weeks later the three of us handed in our extensive report, and now there is a pilot program with 72 trained teachers of English in the first and second grades of the public primary schools.

My Partners in Curriculum Development

The request to travel to Djibouti came in 2017, this time requiring curriculum development over a two-month period. After meeting with English coordinators, it was determined that the 9th grade book be rewritten, and our team of two Djiboutian curriculum developers and I did just that. The book is now hot-off-the-press for use this school term.

My Djiboutian contract also stipulated a return for two weeks to do teacher training in interactive methodology and teacher observations. In fact, I am writing this on the airplane on my trip back to the U.S. after those amazing two weeks in Djibouti.

I say to you that if you want to see the world and deeply immerse yourself in a new culture while working alongside new colleagues on a creative and meaningful task, I can’t think of a better way to do it than with the EL Specialist Program. Each assignment opens a new world where you and your new colleagues share your expertise and bond together. You emerge from these experiences with new friends, new vistas, new cultural awareness and a mutual contribution that enhances English teaching in the country. Try it!  You’ll  love it!

https://elprograms.org/specialist/

Meet Professor Jane Theifels

Education for the future of Jordan

Here’s the first blog on this subject from Professor Trevor Male who is beginning a project in Jordan.  Stay tuned for more.

 

I am in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan this week starting work on a project funded by the Queen Rania Foundation.  The task is to examine best practice worldwide and produce a set of options for school councils and parental engagement, which form part of an education strategic plan for this nation.

Jordan is a small(ish) landlocked country bordering Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel.  In July 2017, the World Bank re-classified Jordan from an upper-middle income country to a lower middle- income country.  There are no natural mineral resources or other natural advantages, so its future prosperity will depend almost entirely on the talents and enterprise of its people.  As of 2010 (the latest estimate available), approximately 14% of the population lived below the national poverty line on a long-term basis, while almost a third experienced transient poverty.   This has had multiple effects on education as children from poor families may be less likely to attend pre-primary education and the burdens of indirect costs (clothing, transportation costs and the need to work to supplement family income) may contribute to non-enrolment, non-attendance and even drop out at the primary and secondary levels.

In addition to these factors, Jordan faces challenges associated with the huge influx of refugees fleeing the violence in Syria and now provides support for more than 1.3 million Syrians.  As would be expected this does place extra demands on the education system and labour market, in addition to other national services and infrastructure.  The challenges are compounded by the continuing rapid expansion in Jordan’s population, which is expected to increase by 1.4% per year for the next decade. Consequently, increasing demands for school and further education places are feeding growing numbers into the labour market.  Whilst this expansion provides a unique economic opportunity for Jordan because the working population will exceed the dependent population for the next twenty years. Nevertheless, based on current projections, there will be a need for over 660,000 new jobs over the next decade, if the national target of 8% unemployment is to be met.  One consequence of this situation is that the kingdom developed a National Human Resource Development Strategy in 2016 which seeks “to invest in our citizens’ education and training to create a generation of forward-looking young people, who are equipped with the skills necessary to analyse, innovate and excel” (King Abdullah II).

Education has been determined as the key to transforming these demographic challenges into opportunities for growth and development, with significant changes being required across Jordan’s education and training systems.  In turn this led the Ministry of Education to devise a strategic plan to address these issues, which was published in 2018.  This is where I appear in the picture as providing “the consultancy service that an international expert will be providing to the Ministry of Education (MoE) to support its goals of having all schools actively engaging parents and working in active partnership with their local communities by 2022”.

What I have discovered since arriving here just two days ago has been unexpected as I had not done my homework on this country and assumed ‘Middle East = must be rich’.     So yesterday I reviewed the documents and today talked to people who work in the schools’ sector.  What I witnessed here is a huge lack of building provision, specially to accommodate Syrian refugee children many of whom are taught in the camps, or in evening schools.  It is not uncommon for schools to be in inadequate rented accommodation and to be double shift i.e. one building with two school populations. They are also short of materials and quality teachers.

Patently the country is not rich and thus sits right in the frame of reference provided by this blogging service in that here is a country determined to overcome social injustice, even when the increase in poverty can be blamed partly on unexpected immigration.  Despite the impact of the influx of Syrian students, however, the Ministry is committed to ensure access and equality towards the vision of “Education for All”, equity in the realms of both gender and special needs, improving enrolment rates, accommodating all age groups, providing a stimulating educational environment and developing awareness and health programmes.  It has been a generous response by this largely Muslim population that puts Brexiteers to shame.

Meet Trevor Male

A Wake-up Call for NGO Boards:  What Can We Learn from these Tragedies?

Recently the international news reported the story of a terrible tragedy that took place over several years in Liberia.  A non-profit organization called More Than Me (MTM) failed the children under their care.  According to a video by ProPublica and story by Time Magazine, young girls who should have been learning care – free were instead raped by the lead administrator of a charity co-founded by an American woman.

Wasn’t it only a few months ago that we were reading about a sex scandal at Oxfam? In Haiti, Oxfam was accused of covering up an investigation involving the hiring of sex workers for staff orgies.  This resulted in the Haitian government withdrawing Oxfam Great Britain’s right to operate in their country.  And if these scandals are not about sexual exploitation then they are about fiscal irresponsibility or simply fraud.  Over a three-year period, the former CEO of National Relief Charities, which focused on improving the quality of life for Native Americans embezzled $4 million dollars from the organization.

Were these scandals about power?  Poverty?  Failed board governance?  Inadequate policies?  Employees who aren’t supervised or held accountable?  People with (hopefully) good intentions who are totally unprepared for what they are doing?  Was it about appallingly outrageous hubris?  Achieving (quasi) celebrity status on social media?  Yes—it is about all these issues and more.

In education development, some people approach their work with trying hard to do no harm, while others go for (quasi) celebrity status.  Too many NGOs have grandiose and self-serving claims about impact.  But where are the data?  Donors deserve rigorous qualitative and quantitative data, conducted by external organizations who are not invested in the NGO.  How is it possible that without impact data NGOs such as MTM can win million-dollar prizes or the CEO be included as one of Time Magazine’s People of the Year during the Ebola crisis?  In 2015 the Washington-based nonprofit GlobalGiving, which connects donors to charities, removed MTM from its platform.  ProPublica reports that GlobalGiving cited that MTM needed to “grow and support a leadership team that has a broad and diverse set of skills” and “continue to educate and develop the Board of Directors on matters of governance, objectivity and accountability.”

In the last twenty years in places like Africa too many expats believe, with good (but naïve) intentions that they are going to “save the world” and so they start an NGO.  Too often they are the new version of 18th and 19th century missionaries; however their language is different.  They talk about making an impact, being entrepreneurial, or ‘rescuing girls in poverty.’  Or, as Greg Mortenson, who wrote Three cups of Tea and founded an NGO told Tom Brokaw in a 60 Minutes interview:  “I always have operated from my heart.  I’m not really a head person.  And I really didn’t factor in the very important things of accountability, transparency…”   That is hubris!  Readers beware!—too often these organizations are a modern day version of the traveling ‘Medicine Doctors’ I wrote about in an earlier blog.

This time, work is indeed being done, and some of it is very good work.  But, professionalism, integrity, transparency, and accountability are too often missing.

I’ve come across an amazing number of ‘social entrepreneurs’ who have an exciting idea, an enormous amount of passion and persistence, and want ‘to make the world a better place.’ I grow weary of hearing the story of the African (or Asian, or South American) epiphany.  Some (usually) young White American has had an amazing encounter, usually with poor children involved, and they decide to dedicate the rest of their lives to ‘ensuring opportunity’ for these children. They put out their tin cup and it’s okay if you give small donations, but they really want the big ones—“for the children”.  Like the founder of MTM, they go for the international prizes worth six and seven figures.  With, at least in the beginning, (and I truly believe this) the best of intentions, they troll social media platforms for the cause.  During college or right after, they travelled to (name of low/middle income country here), met children or people who –if they only had access to (choose one: better schools, books, peace, etc.) their lives would lift them out of poverty.  So, they start an NGO in that country, create a ‘board’ back in the US and start raising money.  The board is usually comprised of their friends who are also early in their careers and passionate about this ‘exciting idea.’

So, what can we learn from the (too) many tragic stories about NGOs—who have failed their clients and their donors, particularly from those working with children?

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • NGOs need to have boards that are comprised of people who live in-country, or at least spend most of their time living in the country. For a nonprofit organization working in one country there could be a US-based board but it should be advisory in capacity and most likely their primary purpose would be friend and fundraising; while the governing board would be in-country and comprised predominately of local citizens.
  • If an organization is multinational, then the governing board needs to be representative of those nations and there should be local advisory boards with mechanisms for them to regularly communicate or liaise with the governing board.
  • NGOs and their donors should require audited financial statements. We wouldn’t support a US based nonprofit that didn’t show evidence of fiscal responsibility. So, why do we not do due diligence on international NGOs?
  • When possible, NGOs need to be locally registered. In the US, nonprofits are required to register with the Internal Revenue Service and pay appropriate registration fees—why should it be different if an NGO is operating in another nation? I’m in Rwanda at the moment and Edify, the multinational NGO I am working with, is registered in Rwanda with the Rwandan Governance Board.
  • For education-related NGOs, boards need to ensure there are child protection policies in place and all employees are following those policies. There should be a sign off by each employee that they have read the policy.
  • NGO boards need to ensure that background checks are conducted (Edify Rwanda does background checks.  They ensure all employees get proof of no criminal record from the Prosecutor General’s Office.)
  • Policies and/or protocols with donors need to be followed. For example, a staff member should accompany a donor on all school visits. This is good practice for clients as well as for the donor.
  • Board members need to be in touch with what is happening on the ground. They have to pay attention to not only their fiscal responsibilities but they need to ask about staff training, and the existence of child protection and similar risk  management procedures.
  • Finally, if there are any accusations of impropriety, whether fiscal, sexual, etc. then those allegations can’t be ignored. Staff should be trained in what steps to be taken if the CEO, or any staff member is accused of wrongdoing.

An article in the Guardian in 2011 describes how NGOs can learn from their failures: “NGOs battle for media attention, devoting considerable effort and energy into getting that crucial eyeball contact. Usually that means making the message as stark and sensationalist as possible, with the implicit message that the NGO knows exactly how to sort out the problem.”  Anyone agreeing to serve on a nonprofit board needs to understand the responsibilities of doing so. And if there are problems, them learning and reflecting on shortcomings is crucial.

Front Page Africa October 17, 2018

Picture4

The scandal at MTM is another wake up call for non-profit leaders and governing boards.  Strong governance structures and policies are crucial. Let’s look for humility rather than hubris and celebrity; instead, “trust but verify”– and show me the impact data!

Meet Paula A. Cordeiro

 

Humanizing the Migrant Caravan from Central America

This blog was written by a Doctoral Student at the University of California, San Diego who wishes to be anonymous.

On the evening of October 13th, 2018, I received a text from a friend that I was not expecting. It came in the form of a link to an article entitled “Hundreds of Hondurans head for U.S. border in mass migration ‘march’: report,” with a short message indicating what the article was about. My heart sank. As the webpage loaded, hundreds of faces rushed through my head–faces of all those I know and care about in Honduras.

Image: GUATEMALA-HONDURAS-US-MIGRATION
Source: NBC-News

The specifics of the article in itself did not surprise me: “64% of Honduran households live in poverty. Many of the migrants are fleeing a poor economy and some of the highest crime rates in the world” (Dedaj, 2018). These statistics and lived realities have been ever-present throughout my work in the region over the past five years, and yet this ‘march’ appears so sudden–especially considering the recent Central American caravan of migrants this past May.

It did not take long for me to find various sources on the issue, including the Washington Post which estimated that the group had “swelled” from 160 to 1,600 as it headed towards Guatemala; and while much of the focus has been on contesting or confirming this estimation as well as what the U.S. and Honduras plan to do in response, it is the sheer magnitude of this group that I feel has the potential to detract from the inalienable fact that each of these humans has a story and that their stories matter.

Currently, I am the director of a non-profit in Honduras which works with rural schools to provide teacher development and empowerment opportunities (the exact name and location have been withheld for protection of those referenced in this article). Our work, led by local Honduran educators, has reached ~2,500 individuals over the past year including teachers, administrators, parents, and children in some of the most impoverished areas in the country. I am humbled to have a community that trusts me and shares their stories; I am grateful to be a part of their lives. It is because of their stories, that I have been compelled to write this one–one that humanizes those in the migrant caravan, and brings us closer to understanding just how important each story is.

On October 14th, 2018 a close Honduran friend called me. She was struggling with anxiety attacks as her mother, brother, and sister had joined the caravan. Her brother, a shy, tall, skinny 17-year-old, was traveling with a limp left arm. In the December election protests (The incumbent was reelected, which is deemed unconstitutional in Honduras) he was hit by a stray bullet–requiring that his arm be immobilized by a large metal contraption for over ten months. When I saw him just 3 months ago, he was still struggling to fight off fevers from infection. My friend’s mother had lived in the U.S. for seven years, suffering the attacks of an abusive husband as she feared constant threats of deportation; every time I saw her she would laugh and joke uncontrollably–a practice my friend attributes to her need to mask the pain of her circumstances. This family has lived in poverty for decades, challenged to find stable work and reeling from the recent murder of the youngest teenage brother, to gang violence. As my friend relayed her fears, I listened and did my best to comfort her from a distance. Her heart heavy she said, “they are going to the U.S. in search of opportunity; they are risking their lives for a chance at a better one.”

On October 15th, 2018 I held a video call with two organization staff members for our bi-monthly meeting. The day prior they had held our monthly professional development opportunity for lead teachers from the schools we support. In this community-oriented space, we often learn about the personal and professional struggles these teachers face on a day-to-day basis; this month the migrant caravan was a key topic on everyone’s mind. In reflecting on the event, they started by sharing that this weekend an estimated 3,000 migrants had left Honduras. when I confirmed I was aware of the situation but not the number, they continued; two schools had documented at least seven students who had left with the caravan, and four teachers expressed having family members or close friends who had joined. To them this was not just a news story, this was a part of their reality, filled with people that they care for and are concerned about.

This “march” of migrants that “swelled” prior to reaching the Guatemalan border, formed just one day after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence urged the presidents of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala to persuade their citizens to stay home (Associated Press, 2018). News reports have said that the group can be heard singing the Honduran national anthem, praying and chanting, “Yes, we can” (Lakhani, 2018). However, when the media uses words that connect this group of migrants to a natural disaster or a dangerous invasion, these stories of resilience and connectedness can be forgotten, dehumanizing the individuals and generating fear (Pugh, 2004; Perera, 2002). While the news will continue to follow this migrant group as they get closer and closer to the U.S., I argue that their stories go far beyond why they are leaving and what they hope to find for their futures. Their stories include the political repression and violence that they are fleeing, the systems put in place to maintain inequality and poverty, and the history of U.S. capitalist interests in Honduras that has left the country economically crippled and heavily militarized. Adding these points to the conversation about the “migrant caravan” are so important to contextualize just what they are leaving behind and what returning might mean for their safety and opportunities.

Insider
Source: Insider

I write this to call attention to the damage that the media narrative can have on public views towards migrants and to argue that centralizing individual stories can help combat this trend of dehumanization. It can help to connect those digesting the news to those they may have never met and can generate a productive dialogue grounded in empathy over fear. From her brother, to our teachers’ students, to those they left behind–each story matters. The migrant caravan is a compilation of many yet to be heard.

Associated Press. (2018, October 15).Over 1,500 Honduran migrants join growing caravan to Guatemalan border. CBS News, Retrieved from NBC News

Dedaj, P. (2018, October 14). Hundreds of Hondurans head for US border in mass migration ‘march’: report. Fox News, Retrieved from Fox News

Lakhani, N. (2018, October 15). ‘Yes, we can’: caravan of 1,600 Honduran migrants crosses Guatemala border. The Guardian, Retrieved from The Guardian

Perera, S. (2013). Oceanic Corpo-graphies, Refugee Bodies and the Making and Unmaking of Waters. Feminist Review, 103, p. 58-79.

Pugh, M. (2004). Drowning Not Waving: Boat People and Humanitarianism at Sea. Journal of Refugee Studies, 17(1).

 

Postcards from Guatemala

I’m here learning about the educational system in order to assist colleagues in developing new materials, and to contextualize existing training materials for school leaders in low-fee private schools. I’ve also had the chance to experience the wonderful hospitality of this nation.

Guatemala City has about one million inhabitants and is subdivided into 22 zones making it easy to locate schools. Zones are numbered 1-25 and when asking for directions people will tell you that something is in a particular zone. The lovely historic area of town is Zone 1.

The school year is ending right now and I had the pleasure of hearing about what children and youth will be doing over the long vacation (working, hanging out with friends, taking extra classes, etc.).

These secondary students are sanding down their desks which is typically done at the end of the year in many schools.   I think it’s a great idea!

Students have a long vacation with classes not starting again until late January/early February. It begs all kinds of questions—How many days should children attend school and how long should the school day be? Like many other Central American countries most Guatemalan public and private schools have two shifts (7-noonish) and 1:30-2:00 to 5:00ish. So, although we know the research on seat time (it’s about quality not quantity) I just find that children in so many low-income countries are attending school significantly fewer hours than those in many high-income nations.

Here are two timetables (horarios).

Below is an end of the year exam schedule for the second shift students.

The outside of a typical school in Guatemala City.

The education challenges in this country are many: low levels of literacy, attainment and retention, and great disparities between urban and rural populations, among indigenous students, and between male and female students.

Children’s writings and art about the importance of peace.

Since the Peace Accords of 1996 (the Guatemalan Civil War lasted thirty-six-years and took place from 1960 to 1996), all government administrations have supported the expansion of primary schools. Since 2009, primary school enrollment rates have been almost 100% and there is nearly equal enrollment of boys and girls.  According to data from USAid, first grade completion rates have increased dramatically (by 18%) in the last four years as a result of the implementation of several quality education policies and programs.  Still, more than 30% of students did not pass first grade in 2013.  In addition, only about three-fourths of those enrolled in primary school graduate from 6th grade (80% of boys and 73% of girls), and the enrollment rate for middle school (7th-9th grades) is less than 40%. There’s so much work to do!

 

A newspaper article describing how test scores reflect the education reality of the nation.

 

We met with several staff in the Office of Evaluation and Assessment. According to 2010 Ministry of Education data, 50% of third graders reached national standards in mathematics and just over 50% reached national standards in reading.  Among sixth graders, only 45% reached national mathematics standards and only 30% achieved national reading standards.

More than two million youths between the ages of 15 and 24 are out of school and don’t have basic life or vocational skills to enter the workforce.  Youth face increasingly difficult conditions, including high levels of unemployment, social and economic marginalization, rapid urbanization, increasing crime, and lack of basic services.  You can see why so many youth head North for work.

Starting in a few months nine new countries: Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Ecuador, Paraguay, Zambia, Senegal, Cambodia and Bhutan will be participating for the first time in the Program for International Student Achievement (PISA).

These posters were hanging in the ministry office.

Some travel observations…

Like nearly all major cities in the world there is chronic traffic congestion. Guatemala also has shortages of safe drinkable water in some areas of the city, and crime (there are maras—gangs) are perennial problems.  Folks told me that the gangs started in Los Angeles and when people returned to Guatemala they brought the concept with them.

The city of Antigua is a fabulous place to visit—lovely, colorful, lots of museums, art, gardens and great restaurants. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. I only spent a day there, but I hope to return in a few months!

A main street in Antigua

 

The Convent of the Capuchin Sisters

Finally, I’m not sure how many countries in the world have MacDonald’s deliveries, but Guatemala sure seems to have these motor bikes everywhere!

 

You might want to visit some time…but skip MacDonald’s and try the flor de Jamaica—it’s a special type of hibiscus juice—a bit sweet and sour—deliciosa!

Meet Paula Cordeiro

 

Low-Fee Private Schools in Sub-Saharan Africa: Teacher Retention and Working Conditions

 

This is the second in a series of blogs I’m writing about Low-Fee Private Schools around the world. The first blog, written last May, is here.

The phenomena of Westerners and Western based-organizations building schools in ‘third-world nations’ has been occurring for centuries. Various faith-based groups (e.g., Jesuits, Friends, Anglicans, Methodists) and colonial governments (e.g., France, the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands) founded private schools in non-Western nations beginning in the eighteenth century, with some still in existence today.  Many of those schools targeted locals to be converted to a particular faith, while others were schools serving expatriates and had relatively high tuition that was often not available to locals and, in some cases, host country nationals were not invited to enroll.

Sunrise: A low-fee private school

Today there is great diversity in the types of private schools found in these emerging nations.  In addition to single, independent private schools, there are a growing number of for-profit companies investing in chains of private schools (e.g., Bridge International Academies, Omega, APEC, SPARK) as well as various secular and faith-based international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) partnering with private schools in a variety of ways (e.g., Edify; Opportunity International, Room to Read).  Given that the MDGs were developed in 2000 with the goal of having all children in every nation complete a basic education by 2015, and, given that many government school systems in low and middle-income nations did not have the resources to serve the thousands of children who had not previously attended school, the emergence in the last twenty years of large numbers of private schools is not surprising.  It’s estimated that there are more than one million low-fee private schools (LFPSs) in low and middle-income nations (Economist, 2015).  While many are run by NGOs, the fastest growing group are individual low-fee private schools (Cordeiro & Brion, 2018). And now with the SDGs replacing the MDGs in 2016 the focus has moved from access to school to inclusion and equity.

Educator Preparation in Africa

Because the preparation for new or existing principals is limited in emerging nations, there is a dearth of literature on the topic (Bush, Kiggundu & Moorosi, 2011).  Numerous scholars recognize that principals of schools are not prepared well enough for the tasks they have to accomplish (Donlevy, 2009; see various works by Raj Mestry).  This lack of leadership preparation is even more evident in emerging nations (Swaffield, Jull, & Ampah-Mensah, 2013). Yet many scholars argue that school leaders play a crucial role in school improvement, teacher morale and retention, and student learning (Grissom & Harrington, 2010; Ingersoll, 2001).

Typical school schedule in a low fee private school in Uganda

Bruce Barnett’s April blog on this site, maintains that leadership preparation and professional development requirements can be thought of as a continuum from tightly to loosely regulated.   As an example, the US has a tightly regulated system, while countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Sweden have moderately regulated systems where trainings are offered but not required. Barnett and other scholars (Lumby, Crow, & Pashiardis, 2008) state that countries such as most African and Central and some South American nations have loosely regulated systems in which preparation programs for aspiring school leaders are rare or non-existent and professional development offerings are infrequent

In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, there are many untrained principals who do not have the necessary skills, knowledge, or attitudes to manage their schools effectively and efficiently (Otunga, Serem, & Kindiki, 2008).  According to Bush and Oduro (2006) schools in Ghana are often ruled by authority, seniority and language and not by who may be competent for the challenging tasks at hand.

In addition to the lack of school leader development, there is great variability in low and middle- income countries with regard to teacher preparation and retention.  In some African nations such as Ethiopia, the majority of teachers in LFPSs hold teaching credentials and/or degrees; while in countries such as Burkina Faso, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana it is far more typical to encounter few teachers at the primary level who have any formal education beyond a high school diploma.

An acute teacher shortage exists in at least 74 low and middle-income countries. This results in millions of children being excluded from primary education and beyond.  Ghana is one of the sub-Saharan countries with an acute teacher shortage.  Thus, exploring what Ghanaian schools can do to support current teachers is key to Ghana achieving SDG 4.  Since approximately 25% of the schools across Ghana are private and it is estimated that up to 60% of the primary schools in Ghana’s capital region may be private (Cordeiro & Brion, 2018), understanding how private school leaders can increase teacher retention is a crucial part of developing education policy in Ghana.

Here I will briefly describe the results from four ethnographic case studies conducted in Ghana (Cordeiro & Brion, in process).  The section of the study reported here addresses the following research questions:  1) What are the challenges of Ghanaian teachers in low-fee private schools? 2) In what ways, if at all, do school leaders support teachers at their schools?

During the 2016-17 school year Corrine Brion and I conducted four case studies in the Greater Accra region. These schools serve children from nursery (age 3) until Junior High School (age 14).  We spent a total of 48 days in the four schools. There were six forms of data collection:  1) individual interviews with teachers and with school leaders; 2) focus group interviews with teachers; 3) a teacher survey; 4) classroom observations; 5) photographs and 6) documents. One focus group was held at each school with 5-7 teachers per group for a total of 25 teachers; additionally, three individual teacher interviews were held. We digitally recorded interviews with eight school leaders. A total of 67 teacher surveys were completed from all four schools with the response rates ranging from 80-95%. Using the Stallings Classroom Observation Instrument a total of nineteen classes were observed. We took dozens of photographs and collected documents such as teacher contracts, handbooks, etc.

Many sub-Saharan countries have handbooks for school leaders created by the Ministry of Education. Unfortunately, few school leaders have copies due to a lack of fiscal resources and printing of sufficient copies by the government.

We are in the process of writing the full paper but here are a few key findings. Teachers differed from school leaders in how they viewed the challenges they encountered. For example, teachers discussed three main challenges: 1) inadequacy or late payment of their salaries; 2) poor facilities; and, 3) few teaching resources.  For school leaders, proprietors hesitated to talk about late or inadequate salaries and they maintained that many parents were frequently late in paying tuition.  When probed as to what their financial plan was for the school, three of the four school owners did not have a plan beyond continuing current practices. The paper also discusses education policy implications with regard to Ghanaian private school teachers, as well as teacher preparation and development.

We hope to have our proposal for a conference session approved soon so in 2019 we can share the full paper. Stay tuned.

meet Paula A. Cordeiro

get in touch ……..

ALL-IN: An Emerging Knowledge Hub for School Leadership Globally

Here’s the latest from guest bloggers Azad Oommen and Sameer Sampat, co-founders of Global School Leaders, who attended the All-In meeting in New York City last week.

Azad Oommen
Sameer Sampat

This week, The Education Commission released a report on Investing in Knowledge Sharing to Advance SDG 4 (ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all). The report calls for three key elements of knowledge sharing infrastructure in education – global public goods, capacity development and networks. This call to action resonated with our work at Global School Leaders, where we are working on creating effective school leadership in the Global South. We see a tremendous need for our colleagues in the field to network, exchange information and create common tools that will accelerate progress on increasing the effectiveness of school leaders in the education ecosystem.

The findings of this report were particularly pertinent, as we had just participated in what we hope will be a real life example of such an investment – the ALL-IN (Agile Leaders of Learning Innovation Network) meeting hosted by the Qatar Foundation’s WISE Initiative. ALL-IN is focused on school leadership globally and is designed to be a networking and knowledge hub on this issue.

The meeting in New York, part of the WISE@NY event, was attended by around 25 participants from countries such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Kenya, Morocco, Lebanon, Ghana, India, Qatar, South Africa, UK and the US. This meeting was the third in a series of exploratory conversations – the first was in Doha at WISE 2017, and the second was earlier in 2018 at WISE@Accra.

Participants at the ALL-In meeting hosted by the Qatar Foundation’s WISE@NY event

At GSL, we are an active member of ALL-IN as it serves a critical purpose as a knowledge hub for school leadership globally. During our initial work on school leadership at the India School Leadership Institute, we found it very difficult to access information on best practices, innovations, and evidence of impact for school leadership, particularly related to the Global South. As we invest in the field of school leadership in Asia and Africa, we find many allied organizations have a similar hunger for knowledge and networking.

The discussions at the ALL-IN meeting in NY highlighted four pressing needs in the field of school leadership:

  1. Networking – there is a need for a forum where stakeholders can come together across geographies and function to create a composite picture of initiatives related to school leadership. ALL-IN can provide an opportunity for donors, academic researchers, and school leadership training providers to come together to discuss their interests and visions. Participants in the meeting mentioned consistently that ALL-IN was an opportunity to meet organizations that they did not know existed and with whom they would find value in interacting and collaborating.
  2. Knowledge Hub – as school leadership organizations have developed their programs in countries, there has been little systemic capturing of either their experiences or the tools that they have developed. Hence, many organizations felt that they are recreating tools and programs without the benefit of knowing what others have tried before them. They voiced the need for a knowledge hub that exposes them to resources and knowledge in the field.
  3. Investment in evidence of impact – Outside of a few countries in the Global North, there has been limited systemic analysis of the role of school leaders and organizations are grappling with assessing the impact of their programs on student outcomes. Many participants spoke of the need for robust evidence of impact frameworks that could help them evaluate their own progress but also make the case for more investment in school leadership.
  4. A more diverse vision for school leadership – as organizations discussed the varied contexts of school leadership in their countries, one theme that emerged is that there is a need to include more voices in defining models of school leadership. Many countries are engaged in defining professional qualification frameworks around school leadership and as these crystallize, the field should incorporate these emerging voices.

ALL-IN is an evolving network and we are excited about its potential. It has the opportunity to demonstrate how school leadership – an under-invested lever in education – can grow and mature through strategic investment in knowledge sharing. As Dr. Asmaa Al-Fadala, Director of Research at WISE noted, “Leaders need a better how, not just another why.”

We would be glad to connect with people who are interested in the issue of school leadership and want to contribute to the network. Kudos to the WISE team for their leadership and vision in developing ALL-IN.

Sameer Sampat and Azad Oommen