Global Education Leadership: Mentoring for Change (Part 1)

When we see highly successful educational leaders, it is often a mystery how they got to where they are today. For many, their accomplishments may seem out of reach and even in some respects intimidating–particularly for new leaders as they are starting their journeys. However, it is critical to remember that each successful leader was “new” once too. Understanding their stories offers particular insight into the journey that new leaders may encounter and can provide useful guidance in terms of best practices to leverage in promoting leadership and change. While every leader is unique, in this two part entry, we hope to pull back the curtain on success and shine light on one aspect of leadership through the personal story of one of this website’s Distinguished Fellows and global education leader professor Bruce Barnett–the role of “mentorship” in supporting change.

Bruce Barnett opens up about his early career experience with one key mentor…

The most influential mentor in my higher education career is Dr. Leonard Burrello, who is currently at the University of South Florida. Leonard recruited me to apply for a vacant educational leadership faculty position at Indiana University in 1987–my first job in higher education. Moving across the country from California to Indiana not only was culture shock for our family, but also was an entirely new educational landscape for me to understand and maneuver. This is where Leonard’s mentorship was particularly helpful–he was extremely willing to involve me in various professional relationships and networks he had established across the state. For instance, he gathered superintendents he knew from Marion County (Indianapolis) to consider supporting a leadership preparation grant we submitted to the Danforth Foundation. Although none of these superintendents knew me or my background, with Leonard’s blessing, they agreed to participate and we were awarded the grant. In addition, he invited me to attend several Indiana School Leadership Council meetings around the state; as a result, I became involved in a district-level school improvement and visioning project.

Although I left Indiana University after three short years to work at the University of Northern Colorado, we have continued our professional mentoring relationship. On one hand, when I became a department chair for the first time, I sought his advice and counsel on how to work effectively with faculty, especially in facilitating program development. On the other hand, he has involved me in projects and programs he has developed around the country. Examples include reviewing and analyzing instructional video materials, providing feedback on professional development programs for superintendents, and reading book prospectuses and drafts of chapters.

What he is so adept at doing is allowing our mentoring relationship to evolve and mature. This evolution is precisely what the literature reveals about effective mentoring–the best mentors are those who begin by being more directive in providing professional guidance and support and overtime shift the relationship to collaboration, where both the mentor and mentee (me) have equal standing in their ideas and discussions. The other point is that good mentors see possibilities in others that they often cannot see. Even though I did not envision being a university faculty member, Leonard planted the seed not only by recruiting me for the job, but also by expanding my professional networks. I can honestly say I was very nervous and skeptical about my chances of being effective in the professoriate; however, with Leonard’s unwavering trust in me support to try new ventures, I have come to love this job.

University Council for Educational Administration

From mentee to mentor, Bruce Barnett on supporting future educational leaders…

The Jackson Scholars Program:

I have had the good fortune to serve as a mentor in formal programs and in informal ways. The three most prominent examples include mentoring doctoral students in the University Council for Educational Administrator’s Jackson Scholars’ program, mentoring a junior faculty member at my current institution, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and my work supporting junior faculty with the UCEA.

This is a formal mentoring program organized by UCEA which matches doctoral students of color with a university faculty member in another institution to help them navigate the expectations of their program and build their knowledge and skills in pursuing a career in higher education. The expectation is that these scholars will seek university faculty positions upon receiving their degrees. I have been assigned a doctoral graduate student annually since 2006.

My approach in working with these students is to: (a) build trust with them, (b) determine their research interests during their doctoral program and their professional aspirations, (c) provide advice and assistance aimed at their needs, and (d) maintain lines of communication. Typically, we are formally assigned students for two years; some of them finish their degrees in this time period, while others take longer to graduate. Besides meeting at the annual UCEA Convention each fall, I contact with them throughout the year. Usually this is through email messages and Skype conversations.

Early in the relationship, I strive to get to know their professional background and what they are interested in researching in order to determine how I might best serve them. Often this results in suggesting other scholars in the field whose work they might find useful, reacting to their ideas for the dissertation, and offering to read drafts of papers to provide feedback. As our relationship develops, I focus on what they can do to prepare to become a future faculty member. We often discuss the need to seek important experiences, such as serving as a teaching assistant, expanding course papers to present at professional conferences, and submitting these papers to journals. As they begin preparing application materials for jobs, we discuss how to present their curriculum vita, develop effective cover letters, and prepare for job interviews and site visits. I offer to review students’ vita and cover letters, providing feedback on ways to improve these documents before they are submitted.

I also have kept in contact with several Jackson Scholars once they have taken faculty positions in universities. We often meet at the annual UCEA Convention to discuss their experiences, suggest ways to strengthen and focus their research endeavors, and recommend others in the field whose work complements their studies. It is a pleasure to watch these young scholars making their way in the profession and fondly reminds me of how Leonard was mentoring me at this stage of my career over 30 years ago.

Dr. Julia Mahfouz, a 2015-17 Jackson Scholar, and Assistant Professor at the University of Idaho college of Education, Health and Human Sciences, department of Leadership and Counseling shares her experiences with Dr. Barnett’s mentorship:

I was blessed with the selection of my mentor. Dr. Barnett is an excellent listener – he listened carefully and mindfully to what I know, what I am looking for from this mentoring relationship and what he thought is needed for me to know as I embark on applying for jobs and being in academia. The best part is that he didn’t assume and asked questions for clarifications. He spent hours guiding me through the process of applying; he read my cover letters and helped me see the options I may have. His mentorship didn’t stop by the end of my graduate years; he continued guiding me through the processes as I moved to academia as an assistant professor.

He is my one person I could meet with and know that I am not judged or blamed for what I think or how I think. Now, I try to mirror the values of Barbara Jackson. Ubuntu— ‘I am because you are and you are because I am’ a motto followed by the Jackson Scholar network which builds that strong sense of direction in which one is grateful for all the mentoring that is happening within this space and is ready to pay it forward.”

Junior faculty mentorship at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA):

Our department has an informal mentoring program, one where junior faculty can select another faculty member to mentor them. Several years ago, I realized one of our new faculty members, Dr. Nathern Okilwa had not selected anyone to mentor him, so I approached him to see if he would like to work with me in developing his research and publication record. Because of his interest in conducting international studies, I invited him to participate in the International School Leadership Development Network (ISLDN), a UCEA-sponsored project I helped to create and co-direct. I also said we could begin to contribute to the network by gathering data in a local high-need school that has experienced increased student achievement for the past 20 years under the leadership of four principals (to learn more about this project, see a previous blog here).

Through this involvement, he has been the lead author/presenter for one book chapter (in press), two peer-reviewed journal articles, and five national and international conference presentations, focusing on the empirical research we conducted at the local high-need elementary school. I also have collaborated with him to co-author two peer-reviewed articles and one conference paper dealing with my research interests on international preparation programs for school leaders and mentoring experiences of assistant principals.

Dr. Nathern S. A. Okilwa, an Associate Professor at UTSA’s College of Education & Human Development, department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies shares his experiences with Dr. Barnett’s mentorship:

“When we attend professional conferences or district meetings, Bruce is very intentional about introducing me to people thus helping me build critical networks. Bruce mentors by example be it scholarly or service projects. He takes his commitments seriously and follows through to completion.

In addition, our relationship spans outside of the work environment – we’ve attended ball games together, with our families and he has supported me on some home improvement projects as well. I’m really fortunate this mentor-mentee relationship has evolved into this special relationship.”

Mentoring junior faculty for University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA):

Over the past few years, I have been involved in activities with UCEA aimed at providing mentoring support for junior faculty who are seeking promotion and tenure. For example, for almost a decade we have been hosting a “speed-dating” mentorship event in which audience members meet with small groups of faculty mentors and then rotate to another group about every 8-10 minutes. In addition, a group of senior UCEA faculty members has been creating other opportunities for junior faculty to learn about the promotion and tenure process. Under the leadership of former UCEA President, María Luisa González, this group has organized forums at the Convention and developed the UCEA Retention, Tenure, and Promotion Guidebook published by UCEA. I co-authored a chapter on preparing for promotion to full professor with my long-time mentor, Leonard Burrello. Since its publication in 2017, chapter contributors share their insights during a Convention session. The group is now proposing a half-day workshop for deans, department chairs, and faculty on important ways of supporting faculty to achieve tenure and promotion. Our hope is to deliver the inaugural workshop in November 2019 during a Convention pre-session.

We thank Dr. Barnett and his colleagues for shedding light on some of the ways that mentorship contributed to their success as education leaders. In part 2 of this series “Global Education Leadership: Mentoring for Change” we will learn more from Dr. Barnett regarding the role and value of mentorship for education leaders at different parts of their careers as well as what this looks like within different countries and cultural contexts. Make sure to stay tuned and we welcome you to share your mentor and mentee experiences with us at:  this website.

Maxie and Paula

Meet Bruce Barnett:

Educating Women for a Changing Planet

Guest Blogger Elizabeth Dearborn Hughes, founder of the Akilah Institute in Rwanda, discusses sustainability education in sub-Saharan Africa.

Project Drawdown, a broad coalition that researches climate change solutions, ranks girls’ education as the sixth-most-effective solution to global warming. Educated women have more agency, marry later, and more actively manage their reproductive health. They earn higher wages and contribute to economic growth.

It’s well documented that educating women and girls is critical to sustainable development, economic growth, environmental stewardship, and a host of other factors key to humanity’s future. It’s less well-known that women’s education plays a critical role in mitigating climate change.

The environmental benefits of educating women are clear: Educated women have fewer children; they can be more effective stewards of the environment; and they have greater resiliency in the face of extreme weather events.

But what if we could do more than increase female enrollment? What if we could create an educational experience that explicitly prepares women for careers on our changing planet?

I founded the Akilah Institute, an award-winning women’s college in Rwanda, in 2010 to create opportunities for women. Our mission was “educating wise leaders to excel”, and our first diploma prepared women for careers in hospitality and tourism, one of Rwanda’s fastest growing sectors. Our graduates landed coveted positions in human resources, customer service, business development, and more.

We’ve since expanded to offer diplomas in technology, business, and entrepreneurship, which are aligned with high-growth areas of Rwanda’s economy.  

Our model proves to be working. A recent alumnae evaluation found that nearly 90% of our graduates secured employment within six months of graduation. They earn incomes that average 12 times Rwanda’s national median income. And nearly 60% of our alumnae have received a promotion in position and/or salary since graduating.

The World Is Changing, So Should Education

But as I look to the future, I realize we have to evolve our model. The world is changing — and quickly. Population growth, rapid urbanization, technological automation, environmental degradation, and globalization present unprecedented challenges and opportunities. The challenges are compounded by climate change, which disproportionately affects developing countries. Many have weak institutions, limited infrastructure, and few technological resources, limiting their ability to adapt to global warming. Poverty, poor health care, and low levels of education also undermine climate resiliency.

While Africa contributes less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the continent is the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Those effects are wide-ranging and life-threatening. Africa’s climate is projected to become more variable, and extreme weather events, such as droughts and floods, more frequent, according to a UN report. By 2020, between 75 and 250 million people on the continent are projected to face severe water shortages, and yields from rainfed crops could be halved in some countries. Even if international efforts keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, Africa could face climate change adaptation costs of $50 billion per year by 2050.

Climate change is transforming the global economy and the jobs that fuel it. However, current education systems are not preparing students for the careers of today and the future.

This is especially true in sub-Saharan Africa, where most education systems were built for the previous era. As things stand, graduates from African universities will spend an average of five years searching for a job. Nearly half of East African employers in a 2014 survey cited a lack of skills as the major reason they did not fill vacancies. Millions of people are out of work or underemployed, but employers leave jobs unfilled because they can’t find qualified talent. The disconnect between graduates’ skills and employers’ needs will only get worse if education institutions maintain the status quo.

A New Model for the 21st Century

The world needs an innovative education model that prepares 21st-century professionals for the challenges and careers of the future. At Akilah, we’ve developed a radically different educational experience that gives students the knowledge and skills to adapt to a changing world. Our model combines education for sustainable development with 21st-century skills, personalized learning, innovation, and ethical leadership.   

UNESCO defines education for sustainable development (ESD) as the transformative learning process that allows students to acquire the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values necessary to shape a sustainable future. Sustainable thinkers make decisions that balance vibrant economies with a healthy environment to create a future of abundance for all.

ESD is gaining prominence worldwide. The UN Sustainable Development Goals explicitly list ESD as an outcome target in Goal 4. In 2005, UNESCO announced a Decade for Sustainability Education. More recently, UNESCO launched its Global Action Program to scale up ESD.

By designing an academic experience rooted in sustainability, we are preparing our students to understand and address the effects of climate change and environmental degradation. They’ll apply their knowledge and skills to case studies and real-world projects that challenge them to weigh environmental, social, and economic considerations. Our model also emphasizes leadership, deep learning, creativity, and moral character to ensure that students can use their knowledge effectively once they graduate.

Just in the past year, Akilah students have developed sustainable business ideas and participated in inter-university competitions that use innovation to address climate change. Their business ideas include a company that converts waste to affordable energy and a hydroponic gardening system that can be adopted by local communities. We’ve had students participate in a UNDP design-a-thon, where they partnered with students across Rwanda to develop apps that convert soil and temperature data into actionable insights for farmers. Our new curriculum and model will encourage and increase student participation in climate-related challenges and projects.  

We’ve identified five pillars that will define our academic model and all of our diploma and degree programs. They include:

21st-Century Skills: We develop lifelong learners who are prepared for the jobs of today and can adapt and succeed in the careers of tomorrow. Our interdisciplinary approach combines subject matter expertise with collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity.

Personalized Learning: We recognize that every student is different. Our adaptive learning model provides individualized pathways to success to ensure each learner achieves his or her academic goals.

Innovation: We encourage students to enthusiastically pursue new ideas, challenge the status quo, and develop solutions for unmet needs. We leverage the latest technology and learning methods to craft an unparalleled learning experience.  

Ethical Leadership: We educate and inspire ethical leaders who recognize the dignity and rights of others and the natural world. We foster values that promote gender equity, civic responsibility, and environmental stewardship.

Sustainability: We deliver a transformative learning experience that equips students with the knowledge and tools to balance vibrant economies with a healthy environment to create a future of abundance for all.

Increasing Access

We’re committed to ensuring that our program remains accessible to students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Nearly 30% of our students are in the lowest socioeconomic strata in Rwanda, and 78% are first-generation college students. This fall, Akilah will have close to 1,000 students on campus and over 550 alumnae. We received over 5,000 applications for this year’s intake.

To meet increased demand and drive down our cost to serve without compromising the quality of our programs, we’ve adopted a blended learning model that leverages competency-based education (CBE). CBE measures mastery, rather than time spent in the classroom. With a CBE curriculum, students advance only after acquiring a predefined set of skills and knowledge. Students can progress through new material at their own pace, creating a personalized learning experience based on their strengths and weaknesses. Our CBE curriculum is delivered via a blended learning model that combines digital content with in-person group work, public speaking, and academic support.

Our Graduates

Our graduates gain the skills necessary for professional success in the 21st century and, at the same time, develop the mindset to build climate resilience. They lead critical conversations and push forward ideas that promote women’s empowerment, climate action, clean energy solutions, smart city innovation, and more. They drive change in their families, communities, and countries.

The workforce needs them. Human adaptation to climate change is projected to create 60 million new jobs worldwide by 2030. Those include 1 million jobs in off-grid solar lighting in sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, some 2.5 million African engineers and technicians will be needed to improve access to clean water and sanitation. This is just a small sampling of the career opportunities open to them.

Our students learn to think critically, acquire new knowledge, solve problems, take initiative, and lead in the workplace — skills necessary for success across a wide swath of industries.

The Future of Women’s Education  

Today girls’ and women’s education is increasingly seen as an economic and social priority. However, the quality and type of education matter. ESD offers a compelling answer. We’re excited to be at the forefront of sustainability education in sub-Saharan Africa. We’ve long prided ourselves on adopting innovative models that put our graduates ahead. With ESD, we’re preparing our graduates to understand and address the effects of climate change, while gaining the skills to succeed in the future economy.

We are rapidly expanding our student body in Rwanda and launching in Uganda in summer 2019. Sign up for updates at Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

meet Elizabeth :

International Women’s Day – Women Changemakers around the World

Paula Cordeiro and Guest Blogger Maxie Gluckman

Paula on a field trip to the African continent

This Friday is March 8 and we will be celebrating International Women’s Day. In honor of the day, the Global Ed Leadership team (Paula & Maxie) is happy to introduce a new multi-part series that highlights women leaders as changemakers around the world.

Maxie Gluckman

International Women’s Day (IWD), celebrated on March 8th each year, is a global day celebrating the social, economic, and political achievements of women. This day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. It was first celebrated in 1911 during a gathering of over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland, however, has roots as far back as the Socialist Party of America, the United Kingdom’s Suffragists and Suffragettes, as well as within many other groups who have campaigned for women’s equality.

The 2019 IWD campaign theme is #BalanceforBetter building on the idea of collective action for a gender-balanced world. This theme centers on the ideas that gender balance is essential for economies and communities to thrive and that collective action and shared responsibility is key to achieving this goal.

As shared on the IWD official website, Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist, and activist once explained “The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”

In a global call to action, IWD shared this vision through a social media campaign asking individuals to Strike the #BalanceforBetter pose with your “hands out: and to do what you can to truly make a positive difference for women everywhere.

If you are interested in learning more about IWD and engaging in this important work, some of these conversations are included here:

@womensday #BalanceforBetter #IWD2019 #genderequity. In addition, if you are planning to organize an event or want to find out what more you can do, IWD has shared some wonderful resources.

From the Global Ed Leadership community, we plan to engage in this work year long, with the launch of your new multi-part series: “Women Changemakers around the World.” You will have an opportunity to hear from women leaders in Pk-12 as well as higher education.

Included here are some of the posts to look forward to throughout 2019. If you have any ideas for additional content we also welcome your support and feedback.

Women in Global Development: How to “win ugly” through the tradeoffs of family, career, and life

  • The journey’s we take that lead us to what we love: Karen Sherman’s story
  • Q&A: The top 5 questions asked by women about working in international development (we welcome you to submit your questions to us via email)
  • Introduction to Global Ed Development work through a personal memoir: BRICK BY BRICK: Building Hope and Opportunity for Women Survivors Everywhere

Students from Akilah’s women’s leadership program take on global challenges through a Global Social Innovation Challenge

  • The Akilah Education model: What set’s us apart
  • The road through their eyes towards this summit hosted at the University of San Diego’s by the Peace and Commerce Center in June, 2019
  • San Diego and beyond: Akilah students in action for global change
  • Moving forward: Reflections from the GSIC and on our roles as global change leaders

We hope you enjoy the series and look forward to sharing more and to building a better world through #BalanceforBetter.

Paula and Maxie

Meet Paula A. Cordeiro

Meet Maxie Gluckman
Photos courtesy of © Photograph: Jorge Oviedo / EyeEm

Improving School Readiness in Ethiopia: The data and the lived experience

Throughout the world governments and NGOs are recognizing the importance of investing in Early Childhood Education.  Here’s an important story from Guest Blogger Professor Ann Garland describing a comprehensive evidence-based program in Ethiopia.

A dozen years ago three dedicated professionals (Irving Fish, MD, Tesfaye Zelleke, MD and Menelik Desta, MD, PhD), developed a comprehensive preschool intervention for children in Ethiopia. The team was motivated by concern about very discouraging school drop-out rates and low educational attainment linked to poor economic, health, and social outcomes. Traditionally, public school in Ethiopia had no preschool provisions before first grade (children entered grade 1 at age seven) and only wealthy families had access to private preschool or kindergarten programming. Thus, the majority of children were woefully unprepared for school. Among children who enrolled in first grade, 22% dropped out before reaching Second Grade and over 50% dropped out before completing Fifth Grade (Federal Ministry of Education of Ethiopia (2012/13).  

For the past few years, I have been consulting with Dr. Desta and his team remotely, participating in research efforts and grant proposals, but I had never been to Ethiopia to witness the program in-person. Finally in January, I was thrilled to visit some of the schools to experience the transformative impact directly and to meet many teachers and students. Before sharing my personal reflections on the visit, I’ll provide some background about the development and growth of the impressive School Readiness Initiative (SRI) in Ethiopia.

Dr. Menelik Desta conversing with a teacher

DSRI is a free comprehensive intervention for children ages 3-6 to build school readiness by fostering pre-academic literacy skills, as well as health, socio-emotional development, family engagement, and parenting support. The program exemplifies the ideals of quality, evidence-based early childhood development interventions in that it incorporates multiple dimensions beyond just cognitive enrichment, such as nutrition support, health and mental health screenings and referral, parental engagement and constructive discipline training, and economic opportunities for mothers. 

SRI began a pilot implementation in 2007 with 80 students in two schools in Addis Ababa. It was initially supported by philanthropic donors, foundation grants (e.g., ELMA Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada), and in-kind contributions by the leadership team.  In 2010, the Bureau of Education of Addis Ababa joined SRI in an official partnership to support wider dissemination. The government Bureau now provides all the infrastructure support and pays the programs’ teachers. By 2016, SRI included 11,500 children across 52 preschools. Over 2000 teachers have been trained in early childhood education and socio-emotional development. Thousands of parents have participated in child development and parenting workshops and dozens of mothers have joined economic development cooperatives, including pottery making and poultry farming (developed by Ilene Fish, Esq.). The government’s Bureau of Education has adopted and is disseminating the core SRI supplementary teachers’ guidebooks to all its preschools. 

Typical preschool classroom

The SRI program has been evaluated rigorously and training methods (e.g., training manuals, checklists, etc.) have been standardized and improved over time. Two studies reporting on SRI implementation have been published in international journals (Desta et al., 2017; Garland, et al., 2018) and a few more are in progress. The program’s primary aim of improving school readiness has been assessed using the established Early Development Inventory (EDI, (Janus, et al. 2011). This measure assesses five critical domains of early childhood development linked to school readiness and its psychometric characteristics have been demonstrated across multiple languages and international contexts (Janus, et al. 2011; Ip, et al. 2013). The EDI was administered at the end of the school year to 100 randomly selected children in the comprehensive SRI preschools and 150 randomly selected children sampled from “control” preschools with only a cognitive enrichment curriculum. The two groups did not differ on key socio-demographic variables, but the children in the comprehensive SRI schools exhibited significantly higher scores on overall development, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development and communication and general knowledge compared to the control sample (Deyessa et al., in progress).  

Additional studies have demonstrated that the program (a) effectively trains the preschool teachers to more accurately identify children with clinically significant developmental and emotional problems (Desta, et al., 2017); and (b) utilizes an established international screening tool (WHO-5) to efficiently screen parents of preschool children for depression (Garland, et al., 2018). 

Preschool child sharing a story

I was initially drawn to serving SRI by the dedication and expertise of the leadership team and the impressive evaluation results of the intervention. Being able to experience the program in-person was truly inspiring and reinforced everything I had learned. One of the schools I visited (Behere Ethiopia) had approximately 400 students in central Addis Ababa. Despite rather stark physical surroundings, warmth and exuberance emanated from the classrooms, which were jam-packed with 40-50 children each. The children were animated and smiling, happy to share a song and to show-off their work to us. Some students in the older (age 5-6) groups demonstrated their reading prowess as their peers cheered them on and helped when they got stuck. Despite the crowded atmosphere, the classrooms were well organized. One of Dr. Desta’s concerns is that teachers may revert to traditional harsh corporal disciplinary practices to “keep children in line,” so he emphasizes more constructive classroom management and disciplinary strategies in teacher trainings. We certainly saw no evidence of children fearing the teachers

Ann Garland visiting a school in Addis Ababa

It was also notable to me that the teachers did not seem to be the least bit anxious about being observed by Dr. Desta. Without exception, the teachers we met exhibited a balance of warmth and authoritative professionalism. They proudly showed us examples of notebooks in which they communicate with parents (those who are literate) and translated the comments for us. They also showed us screening checklists where they rated each student’s pre-academic skill attainment, as well as behavioral and social-emotional skill development and general health. The rooms were filled with colorful child-friendly graphics similar to what one would find in a Western preschool (e.g., photos of animals and foods with the name written in Amharic and English). Each child had a folder full of recent work on the wall with their photo and their career aspiration (e.g., Firefighter, Doctor, Teacher, Mother, Cook, Police Officer, etc.). 

As noted, the physical condition of the schools and their surroundings was spartan, at best. The concrete walls showed cracks. There were a pair of swings and a slide for play equipment in the narrow dusty, pebbly, rutted outdoor space. However, the children gathered happily in small groups, laughing and running around in-between classes. As school dismissal time approached, mothers congregated in a relaxed manner and appeared to enjoy the time spent with each other. It was also notable that the mothers’ attire reflected a diverse and intermingled mix of observant Muslim women and many others in traditional and modern clothing. 

At one of the schools, we found it curious that there was a large Ox tied up in the schoolyard and presumed it was some sort of informal school mascot. We were chagrined to learn that, in fact, the teachers had purchased it to butcher it later that night for food for the school for the week. So much for our quaint thoughts about bonding with farm animals.

At each of the schools, the children greeted us warmly and enthusiastically practiced their English skills. One boy particularly impressed me with his poise as he walked up to us in the school yard and said, “It is a pleasure to meet you… My name is Akiki.” When I praised his English he told me he was born in Uganda and had learned English in a refugee center. His smile and pride were infectious, as were all the children’s smiles. After all the time I’ve spent reading and writing about the SRI program, it was quite an emotional experience to be with the children and to feel their joy about being in school so directly.  C

Children dancing in their classroom!

Global Investment in Early Childhood Education:

            The positive impact of early childhood education has been established for decades, but is recently gaining greater international visibility from economic and political organizations such as the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank and even the representatives of the most recent G20 summit. The 2018 G20 Declaration states that the world leaders “stand ready to join all stakeholders in enhancing quality and sustainably financed early childhood programs that consider the multidimensional approach of early childhood development, as means of building human capital to break the cycle of intergenerational and structural poverty, and of reducing inequalities, specially where children are most vulnerable.” (G20 Leaders’ Declaration from G20 Information Centre, 

            This high profile attention will hopefully translate to more significant investments in early childhood development efforts. A recent report from researchers at the University of Cambridge found that pre-primary education receives only 1% of all aid for children under age five ( Neuroscience research has demonstrated that the first five years of a child’s life are critical for brain development and future health, economic, and social outcomes. Quality early childhood development interventions are very cost-effective. A study utilizing data across 73 countries found that if pre-school enrollment could be increased from 25% to 50% of the population in low and middle- income countries, for every dollar invested there would be a benefit-to-cost ratio of between US$6.4 – 17.6 (Engle et al., 2011). 

            The data, complemented by my own first hard “lived experience,” reinforce the tremendous “bang for the buck” for investments in quality comprehensive preschool programming. Effective models are available and the SRI program is a wonderful exemplar of a successful partnership between a local NGO and a government entity to support long-term sustainability. While I am admittedly biased, I believe we all can learn from the noble work of Dr. Desta and his team. 

SRI is supported by The Ethiopian School Readiness Initiative (ESRI) non-profit led by Dr. Irving Fish, with key supporters in New York, Washington D.C. and San Diego (see website for more information:

Meet Dr. Garland:


Desta M, Deyessa N, Fish I, Maxwell B, Zerihun T, Levine S, et al. (2017). Empowering Preschool Teachers to Identify Mental Health Problems: A Task-Sharing Intervention in Ethiopia. Mind, Brain, and Education. ;11(1):32-42.

Engle, Patrice, Lia Fernald, Harold Alderman, Jere Behrman, Chloe O’Gara, Aisha Yousafzai, Meena Cabral de Mello, Melissa Hidrobo, NurperUlkuer, IlgiErtem, and SelimIltus. (2011). Strategies for Reducing Inequalities and Improving Developmental Outcomes for Young Children in Low-Income and Middle-Income Countries. The Lancet 378 (9799):1339–53

Garland, A.F., Deyessa, N., Desta, M., Alem, A., Zerihun, T., Hall, K.G., Goren, N., & Fish, I. (2018). Use of the WHO’s Perceived Wellbeing Index (WHO-5) as an efficient and potentially valid screen for depression in a low income country. Families, Systems, and Health.

Ip P, Li SL, Rao N, Ng SSN, Lau WWS, Chow CB. (2013), Validation study of the Chinese Early Development Instrument. BMC Pediatrics;13:146.

Janus M, Brinkman SA, Duku EK. (2011). Validity and Psychometric Properties of the Early Development Instrument in Canada, Australia, United States, and Jamaica.Soc Indic Res;103:283–97.

Good overview article published by World Bank by Sophie Naudeau and Rifat Hasan, Early Childhood Development: A Review of the Global Evidence (2016):

Postcard from Hispaniola: Did you win the lottery?

I’m in the Dominican Republic attending an annual meeting with the staff of an NGO working in eleven countries; the Dominican Republic is one of them. Over the last five years I’ve conducted trainings for school leaders and had the pleasure of visiting lots of schools here.

If you are reading this post you most likely did win the lottery. Where you were born, the financial stability of your family and the educational opportunities you received set you on a path to where you are today. And, that’s what has happened to so many children on the two-nation island of Hispaniola.

The Dominican Republic (DR) and Haiti are the two countries comprising the island of Hispaniola.  This island is about 530 miles (853km) from Cuba and 880 miles (1422km) from Venezuela. This satellite image shows the border between the two nations and it’s striking: one side (the DR) is forested while the other has widespread deforestation.

18.4861° N, 69.9312° W

The DR is on the windward side of the island and is subject to the prevailing winds so it’s the wetter side; while Haiti on the leeward side is protected by the elevation of the island from the prevailing winds, and so it’s drier. Geography matters and has been a key factor in the history of both nations. Besides sharing the same island and both nations having about 10 million people, they are more different than similar in just about all other ways.

Haiti was a French colony and citizens speak Haitian French (or Haitian Creole that is French-based) while the DR was colonized by Spain, thus Spanish is the national language.

In addition to differences in rainfall and language, their histories have significant differences. Inequities were considerable in Haiti since the French installed a slave-based plantation economy while the DR had small farms.  Spanish law was different and  allowed a slave to purchase his freedom and that of his family for a relatively small amount while French law did not allow this. Thus, over time the Spanish colony had far fewer slaves.

Here’s a really informative video (15.51) by Vox (2017) that captures some of the key differences between the two nations.

Education in Haiti and the DR

Earlier in its history Haiti’s educational system was based wholly on a French curriculum (a classical approach, courses in French, French texts, etc.). Today schooling in Haiti begins at preschool, then there are 9 years of Fundamental Education (first, second and third cycles) followed by 4 years of secondary education. The school year is 194 days beginning in September and ending in late June.

Approximately 90% of the primary schools in the nation are private (non-public). Some are managed by communities, and others by religious organizations or NGOs. I can’t find any other country in the world with a higher percentage of schools that are not run by the government.

Education in the DR is divided into three stages: preschool education (children 3-5; maternal, kinder, pre-primario) called Nivel Inicial; primary education, Nivel Básico, is grades 1-8; and secondary education, Nivel Medio, is four years. The school year begins in mid-August and ends in mid-late June. 

There is a long history of private education in the Dominican Republic, and the number of pupils enrolled in private schools continues to increase. Around 15% of primary school students, and 22% of secondary school pupils, attend private schools. In Santo Domingo 72% of schools are private and enroll more than 50% of all primary education students in the city. The private school sector has seen steady growth in recent years. Like Haiti there are also schools run by faith-based organizations but the DR also has a large number of low-fee private schools owned by business entrepreneurs.

First grade student from a low-fee private school in the Dominican Republic

I’ve selected a few stats to show some comparisons.  They will give you a flavor of some of the differences:              


  As you can see things are certainly not great in the DR, but in comparison to Haiti, the DR is making considerable progress.  In recent years the DR has revamped its public education system and many new schools are being built. However, there are still too few teachers and pay is low. The DR is benefiting from the current crisis in Venezuela by hiring well trained Venezuelan teachers who have immigrated to the island.

In Haiti there have been improvements in enrollment and the commitment of the Haitian government to strengthening public education; however challenges in funding, teacher training, and access remain widespread. 

  Both countries have a lottery

So here is one island—only 400 miles (650 km) long, yet children in one country have far greater chances of achieving success than children in the nearby country. For a child born on the island of Hispaniola I hope he/she wins the DR lottery ticket.

And, how about you. Did you win the lottery?


Statistics are from:

meet Paula A. Cordeiro



Here’s Distinguished Fellow, Dean Heather Lattimer’s Book Review of “Classroom Change in Developing Countries: From Progressive Cage to Formalistic Frame” (2018) by Gerard Guthrie…

My first experience spending time in schools in sub-Saharan Africa was in the early 1990s.  While an undergraduate at Harvard, I studied for a semester in Zimbabwe and had the opportunity to observe, teach, and collect research data in rural secondary schools there. It was almost two decades before I returned to the continent, this time as an education professor invited to share some of my U.S.-based research on secondary literacy with colleagues working in schools in Kenya. What struck me during my visits to rural Kenyan schools was how little things had changed.  Despite all of the time, money, energy, and international influence exerted to support progressive educational reforms, the teaching that I observed in classrooms in 2011 in Kenya was strikingly similar to what I had observed in 1992 in Zimbabwe. Certainly there were differences in national curricula and examinations, and the intervening years had seen a significant increase in the percentage of students who were able to attend school and reduced the gender gap; but the dynamic between teacher and students, focus on memorization of content, recitation of information, call and response style of questioning, and ever present pressure of examinations remained largely unchanged.  What, I wondered, had happened to the much-promoted efforts to move toward a more progressive educational approach? Were my anecdotal observations an aberration, or were they reflective of a larger phenomenon? And what might the apparent consistency – or intransigence, depending on your perspective – in instructional approach mean for educational opportunity for students, teachers, and communities?

Gerard Guthrie has spent 45 years exploring similar questions as an education professor and researcher specializing in teaching styles in developing countries.  His latest book, Classroom Change in Developing Countries: From Progressive Cage to Formalistic Frame (Routledge, 2018), offers an unequivocal response.  Guthrie argues strongly that progressive education reforms have not worked, that they are inappropriate, and that they should be rejected in favor of working to strengthen teaching and learning within a more formalistic approach.  He asserts, “Attempts to replace formalistic teaching with progressive styles have two major issues: they are usually culturally inappropriate, and they usually fail” (4).In an extensive review of the research literature, Guthrie provides clear evidence that fifty years of progressive educational reform efforts – which he defines as working to move toward a more learner-centered approach – have largely failed to change classroom teaching practices.  Both in general descriptions and through in-depth case studies focused on China, Africa, and Papua New Guinea, Guthrie describes the failure of progressive reforms and offers insights into the reasons for the failure. Rather than criticize the often-blamed ‘lack of resources’ or ‘systems that are resistant to change’ or ‘teacher intransigence’ for reform failures, Guthrie places the blame squarely on the cultural hegemony of the reforms themselves.  He argues that the priorities and expectations that guide progressive educational reforms are inconsistent with the traditional and current values of many of the cultures and communities where they are being imposed. In the conclusion of a chapter focused on progressive educational reform failures in Africa he writes the following:

“In Africa, as elsewhere, the profound reason for formalism’s continuing prevalence is that classroom behaviours are intuitively influenced by teachers’, students’ and parents’ intergenerational beliefs about the nature of knowledge, how it should be transmitted, and their perceptions of the goals of schooling…  Rather than an intermediary ‘stage’ on the path to educational development, formalism is likely to remain in African classrooms because it is a symbiotic part of traditional and current culture.” (118)

Guthrie calls researchers to account for the failure to recognize and address the root causes of the failures of progressivism.  He argues that researchers have treated progressivism as “a value proposition to be implemented rather than a theory to be judged on the evidence” (20).  Too often, according to Guthrie, researchers fault the apparent shortcomings of the reform’s implementation, rather than question the value and appropriateness of the reform itself.  The weight of many decades of Western-style progressive reforms has resulted in progressivism becoming “an intellectual cage distorted by culture-bound value judgments and frequently blind to the cultural imperialism in which it is embedded” (23).

If we are to move forward, to better utilize resources and value the communities and societies within which schools operate in order to strengthen learning outcomes and educational opportunities, Guthrie argues that it is necessary to leave progressivism behind and embrace a formalistic frame.  He asserts that formalism, or teacher-centered instructional practice, is more consistent with the “revelatory epistemologies” (19) found in many developing countries and efforts to improve education are more likely to have impact if they are built within the formalistic frame rather than trying, unproductively and inappropriately, to move teachers and schools toward a progressive approach.  He writes, “The opportunity is to take culturally intuitive fomalistic teaching styles and develop them further, instead of trying unproductively to push teachers and students to adopt progressive methods are are counter-intuitive to them” (162).

I read an electronic manuscript of Dr. Guthrie’s book that he sent me as a preview following a correspondence we had about an article that I had written.  My initial response was head nodding agreement. Yes, many of the progressive reform efforts in Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere have been built on faith in their inherent value rather than being grounded in empirical evidence of stronger learning outcomes.  Yes, too often analyses of the shortcomings of reforms fail to recognize the importance of context and are written through a Western-centric lens. Yes, we need to better understand the values and priorities of existing systems and practices before we work to “improve” those systems and practices, particularly if we are entering the community as outsiders. I believed during that early read, and still believe today, that Classroom Change in Developing Countries: From Progressive Cage to Formalistic Frame calls on all of us to take an important step back to question the underlying assumptions that we as policy makers, reformers, researchers, and practitioners make when undertaking efforts at educational improvement.

However, during my more recent, more in-depth read of a hard copy of the text, I found myself jotting questions in the margins and on scraps of paper that challenge the frame that the book sets up.  Does it have to be teacher centered versus student centered?  Don’t good teachers regardless of context shift approaches depending on the instructional goals, the needs of students, and the demands of the curriculum?  Do we – as researchers, policy makers, advocates – want to set a priority of a particular way of teaching or do we want to focus more on establishing broader learning goals and trusting local experts – teachers, school leaders, students, communities – to determine how best to meet those goals?  Is culture static? If not, if cultures and contexts change over time, then who is best positioned to evolve instructional practices to meet the changing expectations of students and values of the community? How do we get better at trusting teachers to have the expertise to best meet the needs of their students and respond to the particulars of their context?

Most of these questions emerged as I read the first two-thirds of the book, the section that critiqued the “progressive cage”.  I was wary, given the title, that Guthrie would replace the limiting construct of progressivism with the limiting construct of formalism without acknowledging that teaching approaches don’t need to be limited to a binary, and oppositional, choice.

I should have known better.  In the final third of the book, in his description of the formalistic frame, Guthrie presents a nuanced understanding of the complexity of teaching and rightly acknowledges the variation that can exist within a more teacher-centered environment. He notes that formalism is “not necessarily as narrow as it is often supposed” (161) and notes that some teachers in a formalistic setting adopt a more student-centered approach if they determine that it is appropriate for the particular content being taught.  To me, the most compelling chapter in thinking about the way forward focuses on the Teaching Styles Model (Chapter 10). Here Guthrie lays out a continuum of five different instructional approaches from “Authoritarian” to “Democratic” (208) describing the observable dimensions of each without placing value judgements on their merits. He writes, “Different teaching styles are not better or worse than each other, only more or less appropriate, so that progress may well be a case of improving within a style” (23).  He further notes that the approaches are not fixed and that teachers have agency to vary in their approaches based on specifics of student needs, instructional goals, and community context. He writes, “my personal view is that the best teachers can use any or all of these styles, separately or in combination, as the situation warrants” (209).

The dichotomous frame that Guthrie provides – Progressive Cage versus Formalistic Frame – pushes readers to question whether the assumption that we’ve operated under for the past fifty years, that progressive reform is universally desirable, is appropriate.  The book offers a strong and effective critique against that assumption and challenges policy makers, reformers, researchers, and practitioners to consider a new approach. It is important, however, that readers look carefully at the nuance in Guthrie’s description of the formalistic frame if we are to find a way forward that is more respectful of and responsive to the strengths, needs, and priorities of teachers, students, and communities.  Classroom Change in Developing Countries: From Progressive Cage to Formalistic Frame is an important book that anyone engaged in international educational improvement efforts should take the time to read.

Meet Heather Lattimer

Citation:  Guthrie, G. (2018). Classroom Change in Developing Countries: From Progressive Cage to Formalistic Frame.  New York, NY: Routledge.

Here are ten Global Ed Leadership blogs that attracted the greatest number of readers in 2018…

The Best Kept Secret in Developing Latino(a) Community College Executive Leadership        Reyes Quezada and Ted Martinez

A Model for Leadership Training in Low-Free Private Schools (LFPSs) in Sub-Saharan Nations        Paula A. Cordeiro

A Nation’s Future at Stake: An Education System in Crisis and Its Solution          Louise van Rhyn

What Teaching in Jordan Taught Me about Becoming a 21st Century Leader      Kelly Lyman

The Phenomenon of ‘off rolling’ in English State Maintained Schools which is Widening the Social Divide                         Trevor Male

Principal Preparation and Development:  Highly Regulated or Loosely Structured         Bruce Barnett

Kindergarten classroom in the Dominican Republic.
Printed with permission.

ALL-IN: An Emerging Knowledge Hub for School Leadership Globally        Samer Sampat and Azad Oommen

Low-Fee Private Schools in Sub-Saharan Africa:  Teacher Retention and Working Conditions          Paula A. Cordeiro

Effective Leadership in High-Need Schools:  How Do Leaders Read and Respond to Context             Bruce Barnett

Classroom and School Communication:  Insights from the Profession     Maureen Robinson

Wishing everyone a Happy 2019!


How Language Difference becomes Learning Disability: Challenges in Assessing for Dyslexia in the Indian Multilingual Context

This is the third blog in a series by Distinguished Fellow Maya Kalyanpur on her research in India on children with learning disabilities.

Using a post-colonial lens (Motha, 2015), this study examined the process by which low-income students from non-English-speaking backgrounds are labeled as learning disabled within the context of the Sustainability Development Goal of quality of education.  In the new millennium, the number of children labeled as learning disabled or dyslexic in India has increased exponentially:Currently, about 10% or 30 million children are estimated to have a learning disability (“10% of kids”, 2012). There is no research to explain this trend.The label, new to India, was officially recognized in 2009 when the Persons with Disabilities Act of 1995 was amended to include the category of Specific Learning Disabilities. In post-colonial India, more children than ever before are accessing an education facilitated by the Indian government’s Education forAll program launched in 2001 and the 2009 Right to Education Act. Recognizing English as the language of opportunity and social mobility, parents are increasingly choosing to send their children to English-medium private schools rather than government schools where the medium of instruction is in the regional or national language, even though they may speak a regional language at home.

Part of a larger qualitative study on the quality of educational services for struggling students in English-medium private schools conducted in a metropolitan city in India over four months, this blog focuses on an analysis of assessment practices in three low-fee-paying schools and two learning disability clinics to ascertain the process by which students are labeled learning disabled. Data sources included document analyses of psychometric assessments used at the clinics and curriculum-based assessments used in schools, participant observations of instruction in schools, and interviews with teachers, parents and clinicians.

Photo courtesy of Educate Girls Globally (EGG)

Findings indicate that students who struggle academically are caught within a fiercely competitive educational system that is hierarchically tiered by students’ socio-economic status and, by extension, their access and familiarity with English. Students from elite backgrounds, fluent in conversational and academic English, attend Tier I or the top-ranked schools, which gives them access to top-ranked universities and colleges both nationally and internationally. On the opposite end, students from low-income, non-English-speaking backgrounds attend Tier 3 schools, such as low-fee-paying schools, and aspire to the lifestyle that access to fluent English provides in India (“Goddess of English”, 2014). While the national No Retention Policy requires that students not be retained until Grade 8 even if they are failing, unlike in the US, there is no legal mandate to provide academic support services in schools.

The Challenges of Creating Standardized Assessment Measures

Yet, there is a strong dependence on the US service model. The definition of Specific Learning Disabilities in the 2009 amendment of the Indian Persons with Disabilities Act mirrors that in the US Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, specifying that assessments should ascertain a “discrepancy factor” between achievement and aptitude. Most of the measures themselves are imported from the US and poorly standardized on Indian norms, resulting in students outside the norming group being identified as learning disabled. For instance, the Indian version of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV, 2012) published by Pearson, the American publishing company, is normed on just 334 children (118 boys, 153 girls) studying in English-medium schools with almost 84% parental educational levels of college graduate.


 Some Test items expect students to recognize items like a sled, mittens and a snowman,hardly culturally appropriate for the Indian context. Further, the number of officially recognized languages in India makes creating a standardized assessment measure for the specific detection and educational intervention of children with LD problematic (Narayan, et al., 2003; Unni, 2012). While the Dyslexia Assessment in Indian Languages (DALI), an indigenously developed screening tool that uses linguistic knowledge of the language rather than translated versions, is a creditable alternative, it is currently only available in four languages and for elementary grades. At the two clinics observed, the DALI was not a systematic part of the diagnostic process.

For low-income, regional language students, the lack of appropriate assessment tools is particularly problematic. Many are first-generation school-goers, and their home environments preclude access to conversational English, either through TV or within the community. They are enrolled in low-fee-paying English-medium schools because of their parents’ lifestyle aspirations, where they are introduced immediately to academic English. The large class sizes of up to 60 students make individualized support for academically struggling students impossible, and render the mode of instruction primarily teacher-led with heavy reliance on rote memorization. Teachers are not trained to scaffold students’ learning through translanguaging pedagogy (Garcia & Wei, 2014) which enables students to acquire English by building their comprehension in their native language; in any event, even multilingual teachers are unlikely to speak all the languages represented in any given classroom. English language acquisition becomes contextualized to the curriculum and students’ academic achievement is filtered entirely by their ability to acquire what is essentially for them a foreign language. Even the remedial classes offered to struggling students focus on reinforcing the curriculum through memorization rather than increasing conceptual comprehension.   

Learning Disability?  English Language Acquisition?

The No Retention Policyaverts major crises until Grade 10 when students take the high-stakesschool-leaving statewide tests, which determine access to all post-secondarypaths. At this point, students may receive minimal government-permittedconcessions of extended time on tests and scribes for students with dysgraphia(Karande, Sholapurwala & Kulkarni, 2011), but, as in the US, they must bedeemed to have a learning disability. Thus, desperate to pass students willseek a certificate of disability, despite the enormous social stigma attachedto the label and even though, in most cases, the learning barrier islanguage-based, not cognitive. The study concludes that, despite the SDG ofquality education, these assessment processes further disadvantage low-incomestudents, despite their fluency in regional languages, by conflating difficultywith English language acquisition with learning disability.

Meet Maya Kalyanpur


Garcia, O. & Wei, L. (2014). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. 

“A ‘Goddess of English’ for India’s down-trodden” (February 15, 2011). BBC News. Retrieved from:

Karande, S., Sholapurwala R. & Kulkarni, M. (2011). Managing Specific Learning Disability in schools in India. Indian Pediatrics, 48, 517-520.

Motha, S. (2014). Race, empire and English language teaching: Creating responsible and ethical anti-racist practice. New York: Teachers College.

Narayan, J., Thressiakutty, A.T., Haripriya, C., Reddy, K.G., Sen, N. (2003). Educating children with learning problems in primary schools: Resource book for teachers. Secunderabad: National Institute for the Mentally Handicapped.

Unni, J.C. (2012). Specific learning disability and theamended “Persons with Disability Act”. IndianPediatrics, 49, 445-447. Retrieved from:


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


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