Creativity and Innovation in Guatemala: A week in the life of Karla de Pineda (Part 1)

In honor of World Creativity and Innovation Day, April 21st, we would like to highlight the courageous and innovative leader Karla de Pineda of Edify. In a two-part series, we follow two weeks in her life learning and teaching school leaders in rural villages across Guatemala.


We start almost every day with intense traffic. Guatemala City is well known for its traffic no matter which way you are heading in the city, but it is always something hard to get used to. On Mondays, I try to avoid the craziness and prepare for my busy week. Below I will share with you some of the highlights of this week and the innovative things we are working on here at Edify, Guatemala. As the Guatemala Program Director, my role is to support all of the activities of the organization across the country, including trainings, reports, innovation, and providing feedback to support ongoing programming, so every day is something new and exciting (to learn more about Edify, please visit).


This week I had the opportunity to attend an exciting EdTech conference with two Edify colleagues. PROGRENTIS is an online literacy program that allows students to develop strategies and skills such as reading comprehension, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving through topics such as neuroscience. It supports teachers by tracking student learning and designing activities to help teachers provide interventions to best meet students’ needs. Our dream is to be able to bring this program to the low-fee private schools we support across the country.


We got a very early start today with a beautiful sunrise to try to avoid traffic. Today we visited with a group of trainers who provided training to five different school sites over the past few months. At the end of each training or module, school leaders are asked to share feedback on the what they liked and what they would recommend improving upon as well as to share how they plan to implement what they learned at their school sites through a google doc feedback form. Today we reviewed this data with the trainers and discussed ways in which they can better support school leaders in future trainings. The main feedback we provided was to try to create more opportunities for participant interactivity through questioning strategies and interactive activities–important conversations to make sure we are serving these schools in the best way possible. One of our key next steps will be to go to the schools and see how they are implementing these ideas in practice.


Each week a few days are dedicated to fieldwork in schools. Most of our schools are located in vulnerable and semi-rural areas, requiring quite a long drive, with some very beautiful and unique scenery. During these visits, we observe classrooms, hold conversations with the school leaders, and look for physical evidence of the learning that takes place in classrooms. Here are some examples of some student work that we saw today.


Part of the support we provide to trainers is to follow-up after we provide them with feedback and see how they implement this the next time they deliver training. Today I observed a trainer deliver the topic “Curricular Adaptations,” which focuses on how teachers can support the inclusion of students with special needs as well as students with different learning levels by making sure that learning is differentiated. Guatemala recently passed a law which requires teachers to include these “adecuaciones curriculares” in their lesson plans. This trainer had 65 participants, and we saw great improvement, seeing her use EdTech tools such as Kahoot!— a free tool that has participants answer questions an compete for high scores–to generate participant engagement.


While work keeps me pretty busy, always learning something new, I think it is important on the weekends to take some time to enjoy with my friends and family. This balance is important for me, and some of my hobbies include listening to jazz, classical music, and reading.

I really enjoy my position, and every day I am learning something new. Next week I will take you all on a journey to the school sites we work at to see what it looks like to support the change at the school and classroom level. Until next week! ¡Nos vemos!

We thank Karla for providing a window into her professional and personal life–pulling back the curtain on what it means to be an inspirational leader and women “changemaker” as well as how she finds balance following the International Women’s Day 2019 theme of #BalanceforBetter. Stay tuned for a week in the life of Karla de Pineda Part 2 coming soon.

Thanks for reading!

Paula and Maxie

Meet Karla de Pineda

Educating with the Future in Mind: Nurturing Young Entrepreneurs

Here’s a guest blog from Jane Wanjiru Kinyua, who is a Rotary Global Peace scholar pursuing her M.A in Peace and Justice Studies at the University of San Diego’s Kroc School.  Jane is from Kenya and was a part of my recent practicum class that visited Colombia where we explored the intersections of social innovation, social entrepreneurship and their relationship to the ongoing peace building process.

Colombia has an extreme disparity in wealth between the country’s elite and the lowest income earners, with the country’s 2017 GINI coefficient remaining the second highest in the Americas at 50.8[1]. Each neighborhood is classified in strata ranging from 1 to 6 whereas one is the lowest and 6 is the highest. However, some communes are in zero strata as they stay in condemned areas that are not recognized by the government; I was humbled to visit such areas and learn how people make it one day at a time.Reflecting on the inequality reality of Colombia and considering the stake of the future generation who are the children and youth of today, calls for the need to rethink ways of educating them to face the future with all the challenges it brings forth.

Borrowing from my experience of our visit in El Paraiso at the Investing Hope Foundation in Bogota, empowering children effectively requires intentional incorporation of relevant skills required to thrive in the social-economic situation surrounding them. As such, if a country has issues of ethnicity, tribal hatred or social stratification, children need to be equipped both formally and informally with skills that will help them to be more accommodating, less biased, and that promote unity, resilience, and forgiveness among others. Consequently, if a country has huge social economic inequalities, empowering children effectively would entail equipping children with skills that boost their creativity in developing diverse ways that can help them thrive irrespective of the social economic challenge limiting them thus bridging the social economic gap. But how do you practically teach children to be entrepreneurs without violating their rights aschildren?  This question from one of my fellow students challenged my perspective. Thinking about it, and reflecting on the context, there is a thin line between the intersection of practically teaching children financial literacy and safeguarding their rights as children; challenging yet achievable. This was evidenced by the work done by Investing Hope Foundation

Young Social Entrepreneurs: Credit and Saving Program for Children

Entering in their workshop, we found young social entrepreneurs undertaking different enterprises. Cautious of the hygienic handling of their product, every child had a hair cap, mouth and nose protective gears and gloves. Working in small groups, the children were busy sorting their candy of different color, size, and shapes for sale. Creatively combining them in every possible way to make them appealing to the eyes of any potential buyer. The other section involved another team of children making different chocolate bars decorated for different occasions. The last category included making cookies and adding different flavors.  After sorting all these different products, and packaging them beautifully, they were taken to the weighing section where the price was determined depending on the weight of the final product after which they were declared ready for sale. All these sections were children-led! They had learned the skills required to successfully prepare the product and have it ready for sale and moreover how to make a profit from it.

Each child was allocated a certain number of items that he/she would commit to selling throughout the week. This was well recorded and the expected amount of money equivalent to the total sale of the product noted. After the sale, the child would bring all the monies from where the expenses would be deducted and the profit saved under that child’s name. This is done every week after school on Friday afternoon and the children are made aware of the cumulative value of their savings.

What is the overall goal of the credit and saving program for children in El Paraiso?   This program was started with the end in mind. Considering the cost of higher education in Colombia, the program is geared towards helping the children to save to enable them to attend university after which they would be able to get a better job, thus possibly improve their social strata.

Collaborating with schools

The program was tailored in that the theory part is done in collaboration with the schools they attend, thus it is made as part of their learning process. They are taught basic money management, related values of hard work, honesty and stewardship. The practical session is an afterschool program thus it doesn’t interfere with their schooling. 

Unintended consequences

Although the main goal was to equip the children with financial literacy, the participating children ended up improving their arithmetic performance in school as the practical concepts taught of transacting money were applicable in their school work. Additionally, the project helps kids stay out of the street as they have goals they are determined to achieve, thus reducing vulnerability to engagement in drug abuse. Besides that, their income boosts their family income and gives them an opportunity to contribute to their own education through saving with the future in mind


The social enterprise with tangible results helps the children increase their financial awareness, learn money management, understand the power of savings, and the value of hard work. Additionally, they learn the virtue of discipline and gain a positive sense of responsibility. Besides that, the project nurtures entrepreneurship at an early age- a skill that can be transferred to other fields when they grow up.


Breaking the cycle of poverty requires disrupting the norm. Something different ought to be done: something that resonates to the needs of the community and that will answer the needs of a particular context. The education system in many countries prepares children for white color jobs which at the end, it doesn’t offer. My experience in Colombia is a challenge to all educators to innovatively come up with ways that can equip children with skills that prepare them to face the challenges of a changing world; educating their minds and hearts in nurturing creativity and innovativeness. In a nutshell educating them holistically with the future in mind.


Looking at the young social entrepreneurs, I felt a great sense of hope of a community redeeming itself from the gnaws of poverty that has held it hostage for years. Children learn problem-solving by being part of the solution.

Meet Jane Wanjiru Kinyua :


The journey’s we take that lead us to what we love: Karen Sherman’s story

In honor of International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda, we share the story of Karen Sherman, a change leader who works to promote women’s education and economic empowerment throughout Rwanda and across Africa. April 7th marks the start of a 100 day period of national mourning for the 1994 genocide; it begins on today with Kwibuka (Remembrance), the national commemoration, and concludes on July 4th with Liberation Day.

Karen Sherman embodies the persona of a “women changemaker.” For the past 30 years, she has combined her expertise, passion, and transformative leadership skills to effect lasting change in conflict-affected countries and those in transition. In her current role as President of Akilah Institute as well as in her past executive leadership roles  at Women for Women International, she has achieved considerable success in helping organizations grow their capacity, impact, and financial and organizational sustainability. However, in what she calls “winning ugly,” she shares how the journey for women global change leaders is never easy, requiring a constant re-assessment of “tradeoffs between family, career, and life.”

Her journey, as many do, started by a chance encounter. In 1985, during a DC internship post-college graduation, she had the opportunity to attend the Geneva Summit Talks where she met General Secretary Gorbachev. Interested in understanding the changing dynamics in the former Soviet Union and broader region, these conversations propelled her to pursue a Master’s in Russian and East European studies. This fascination blossomed from an interest to a business and then a development career, where over the course of 15 years she worked to support women entrepreneurs through business incubators, microcredit programs, and civil society organizations across Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Jumping continents, she continued this women’s empowerment work first as the Chief Operating Officer and then Executive Director for Global Programs at Women for Women International (WfWI)–an organization that supports women survivors of war; for the next decade, she expanded the number of women they served threefold and grew revenue from $5 million to over $20 million. When WfWi gave her an opportunity to take a more in-person role in Rwanda, she made a big decision, jumping to another continent with her three sons, fourteen-year-old twins and an 11-year-old.

As she reflects back on this decision, she highlights that it was not easy. As she notes, most of the women she knows who do international development work are kidless, empty nesters, or divorced. However, she strongly believes while there may be difficult tradeoffs involved there are tradeoffs that come with any choice that one would make. In her forthcoming book, Brick by Brick: Building Hope and Opportunity for Women Survivors Everywhere she unpacks some of these tradeoffs, with a hope to inspire individuals, and in particular women, wives, and/or mothers who might be considering a new journey.

Karen with the women of Akilah!

For over a decade, the Akilah institute–an all women’s college in Rwanda–has been offering two-year diplomas in information systems, hospitality management, entrepreneurship, and business management. Recently, they announced exciting plans to expand their offerings to include bachelor’s degrees in these majors as well as in additional areas of study based on the fastest growing sectors of the East African economy. Karen has been integral in driving this growth as well as their plans to scale globally alongside Akilah’s CEO Elizabeth Dearborn Hughes (to learn more about Elizabeth and Akilah see here).

As Karen and her husband joke, making tough choices is all about determining if you can “live with the whole ‘winning ugly’ piece,” a reference from Brad Gilbert’s book about becoming a tennis legend. For now, she says, this journey has allowed her to do what she loves and she is extremely grateful and looking forward to what comes next.

Learning from the experiences of women leaders such as Karen is critical, as the global development space is still heavily dominated by men and lacks diversity–greatly shaping the work and whose voices shape policy in the NGO sector. With only 32% of female CEOs and only 3% black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds (Root, 2019), there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. Karen, not only through her own experiences but also in her current position as President of Akilah Institute, is working to change the conversation as to what it means to be a woman, a mother, and a professional working to empower other women leaders across the world.

In future blogs, we will be sharing more about how women like Karen, strive to #BalanceforBetter, taking into consideration the tradeoffs of family, career, and life in pursuit of what they love. Keep up the incredible work Karen, we look forward to following you along this next leg of your journey!

In our hearts and memory, we also ask that you take a moment to reflect and learn more about the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide in Rwanda, as well as share this information with your networks to promote awareness and remembrance for all those whose lives were lost.

Thanks for reading!

Maxie & Paula

Contact Karen:

Global Education Leadership: Mentoring for Change (Part 2)

In this post, Maxie Gluckman & I dive deeper into what it means to “mentor for change” focusing on Dr. Bruce Barnett’s experiences and recommendations for supporting global education leaders at different stages of their careers (Enjoy Part 1 of this conversation here). He also offers insight into what this looks like as leaders work in diverse countries and cultural contexts–particularly important to consider if you are looking to create or grow successful and sustainable mentoring programs.

What are your thoughts on mentoring and coaching novice and advanced administrators?

First and foremost, I believe it is important to distinguish how mentoring and coaching differ and what this looks like as administrators advance in their career stages. Although these two terms are often used interchangeably, mentoring focuses on career development and implies a long-term developmental relationship between the mentor and mentee. Mentors are interested in the overall growth and development of their mentees over time as their career develops; coaches assist in helping others for shorter time periods aimed at improving or strengthening a particular skill, product, or event. Both approaches can be useful for novice and advanced administrators, as long as they adapt to the nuances and needs of each individual.

To my knowledge, the vast majority of mentoring and coaching programs for school administrators focus on novices as they begin the job or on administrators who need to improve their performance. I have been involved in many such ventures including my work co-

Kathryn Whitaker, Peg Basom, Myron Basom, Bruce Barnett and Alan Shoho—UCEA 2007

developing and delivering the SAGE Mentoring Programme with Dr. Gary O’Mahony from the Australian Principals Centre. From 2000-2007 our team had the opportunity to prepare over 1000 SAGE mentors–individuals who would work with novice administrators across various spaces and capacities across Australia.  I have also conducted a variety of half- and full-day workshops on mentoring for various organizations, including the Center for Educational Leadership at the University of Tennessee, Centre for Educational Leadership and Administration at the University of Otago (Dunedin, New Zealand), Education University of Hong Kong,  Australian Lutheran Schools (Adelaide and Brisbane), University of Victoria (British Columbia, Canada), and Local Education Authorities in England (London).

These experiences reveal various challenges and benefits of working with novices. Many of the challenges focus on the logistics and operation of a mentoring program, such as (a) matching mentors with novice administrators, (b) finding time for mentors to meet with novices, (c) establishing trusting relationships between mentors and novices, (d) monitoring and reassigning mentoring partnerships that are not productive, and (e) dealing with large geographical distances between mentors’ and novices’ schools. Other challenges that can compromise the relationship include (a) convincing mentors to help novices reflect on their situations and possible solutions to problems, rather than telling them what to do, (b) working with novices who are reluctant or resistant to an outsiders’ perspective, (c) ensuring their discussions remain confidential, and (d) blaming mentors if the ideas and strategies novices use fail to achieve their intended results.

M. Salinas’ Graduation

The benefits, however, can be extremely productive for novices and mentors. Novice administrators can benefit by (a) clarifying their beliefs and values, (b) improving their self-confidence and sense of efficacy, (c) learning the value of taking risks, (d) expanding their understanding of the factors affecting problems and solutions, (e) beginning to not take resistance and failures personally, (f) reducing their stress, and (g) increasing their motivation to continue the job. Interestingly, many mentors claim they believe they gain more benefit from the experience than novices do. When asked to explain this reaction, they indicate that working with novices has two advantages. One benefit is they begin to hear fresh ideas and strategies from someone who has not been in the job. Sometimes this results in novices sharing new resources (e.g., books, articles, programs) that are new to their mentors. Another benefit is that mentors find it extremely valuable and insightful to articulate their rationale for making decisions, many of which they do automatically. The work of school administration is multi-faceted and fast-paced, with little time to think deeply about motives, actions, and desired outcomes. Because mentors have the opportunity to slow down the process by reflecting on their actions and explaining them to another administrator, this allows them to clarify and articulate their beliefs, values, and attitudes. I think many effective administrators operate on “automatic pilot”, resulting in being “unconsciously competent”. Being forced to articulate their ideas forces them to become more “consciously competent”, an outcome many mentors relish.

I am only aware of one coaching program that took a different approach for more experienced principals. In 2004, the Australian Principals’ Centre established the Coaching for Experienced Principals Program, which assigned coaches to principals with three or more years of experience. These principals were not at risk or needed to strengthen a weakness, but were seeking short-term assistance in improving how school improvement occurred on their campuses. In observing the program, I sensed many of the same logistical challenges associated with mentoring programs noted earlier, including matching, time constraints, and geographical distances between partners.

Professors David Thompson, Alan Shoho (now Dean at UW-Milwaukee), John Folks, Bruce Barnett, and Mariela Rodriguez– University of Texas San Antonio

To assess the value of the program for these experienced principals, we surveyed them to determine what they gained from the coaching experience. Three major outcomes surfaced (a) increased awareness of their beliefs and values, (b) clarified their strategic view of school improvement, and (c) realized they were not tapping the talents and resources on the campus. To me, these findings suggest coaching programs supporting experienced school administrators not only help them gain valuable insights about their leadership but also deepen their understanding of change and school improvement.

What does this mentoring look like in diverse cultural contexts?

Over my career, I have delivered mentoring and coaching programs in various countries (Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand),allowing me to gain a better understanding of how these learning processes are affected by cultural norms and contexts. In these settings, I have found that the vast majority of issues affecting mentoring and coaching in the USA are similar in these countries. Many of the same logistical and operational challenges and benefits noted earlier also arise in these settings.

There are, however, several subtle differences that affect how mentoring and coaching are viewed in these contexts. For instance, Australians favor an egalitarian society, acknowledging the social and economic equality of all individuals. Consequently, they do not like to put people on pedestals and tend to be somewhat skeptical and cynical about authorities, especially political leaders. One way of expressing this is what they refer to as the “Tall Poppy Syndrome,” meaning that the tallest flowers in the field should be cut down to the same size as the other flowers. Australians tend to distrust individuals who are perceived as self-promoters and arrogant. While they realize success and achievement are important, they are offended when these people act superior or try to rise above others. This issue can arise in a mentoring relationship, especially when examining the unequal knowledge and skill levels between mentors and novices. Mentors do not want to be viewed as superior to novices, preferring instead to be seen as equal partners in the learning process. Therefore, successful mentors realize they need to refrain from coming across as arrogant or demeaning novices’ thoughts, ideas, and actions.

Scotland—the Suttons and the Barnetts

In addition, in the Hong Kong and Chinese culture, maintaining harmonious relationships with one another is a strong cultural norm. Therefore, criticizing others, especially in a public setting, is socially unacceptable. This perspective can influence the mentoring relationship, especially when mentors might feel novices are performing below expectations and need to alter their actions or strategies.

One way we have tended to acknowledge these norms of egalitarianism and harmony is by helping mentors learn how to assist novices in becoming more self-reflective about their actions. Rather than being directive in confronting novices’ actions, we stress mentors use reflective questions strategies that allow novices to describe their perspectives of particular situations they are experiencing, what they sense is affecting these situations, and what they believe are useful approaches and strategies for dealing with the situation. Although mentors do provide their advice on these issues, the goal of reflective questioning is to build novices’ capacities to dissect situations and develop insights about how best to respond. This questioning strategy uses a collaborative approach to mentoring, allowing mentors and novices’ voices to be heard.

While much is still left to be unpacked with respect to how to design and implement successful and sustainable mentoring programs, we hope that this series has allowed us to start a conversation surrounding what it means to generate professional relationships for global change that may push our community to share their own experiences and lessons learned along the way. We welcome hearing from you!

Maxie & Paula

Meet Bruce Barnett:

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 8th 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.