Understanding Learning Disability and Dyslexia in the Indian Educational Context

Distinguished Fellow Professor Maya Kalyanpur, a learning disability researcher, shares the background literature to a study she is conducting in India.  A key focus of school leaders is equity and understanding the needs of students with disabilities so that school staff can ensure a supportive learning environment for all children.

In the last ten years, the number of children who are labeled as learning disabled (LD) or dyslexic in India has increased exponentially (Karande, Sholapurwala & Kulkarni, 2011) — currently, about 10% or 30 million children are estimated to have a learning disability (“10% of kids”, 2012) with a corresponding upsurge in the provision of fee-based remedial classes and special schools to respond to their needs (Dyslexia Association of India, 2011). There is no research to explain this trend.

The label of learning disability is itself new to India. It was officially recognized in 2009 when the Persons with Disabilities (PWD) Act of 1995 was amended to include the category of Specific Learning Disabilities (Unni, 2012). Earlier in 2007, the Bollywood movie, Taare Zameen Par, about a young boy struggling to learn in school, brought the term “dyslexia” into the mainstream, seeking to raise awareness, clarify some misconceptions, and reduce the stigma associated with it (“Pain of Dyslexia”, 2008).

Photo courtesy of Educate Girls Globally: www.educategirls.org

In post-colonial India, more children than ever before are accessing an education, facilitated by the Indian government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (or Education for All) program launched in 2001, and the 2009 Right to Education (RTE) Act. However, recognizing English as the language of opportunity and social mobility (“Goddess of English”, 2014; Motha, 2014; Varma, 2007), 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, regardless of whether English is spoken at home (Kalia & Reese, 2009); as a result private school enrollment in most states is increasing (Annual Status of Education Report [ASER], 2015). With the commensurate increase in competiveness to get into and do well in school, students who experience academic difficulties are often perceived as “hopeless or badly behaved” and labeled LD (“Pain of Dyslexia”, 2008). While the main benefit of labeling is that students will get remedial help, it can also be problematic: One, there is a stigma associated with disability (Center for Equity Studies [CES], 2014). Two, sometimes children from non-English speaking homes, many of whom may also be poor or Dalit (oppressed caste community), may get labeled because they perform at a lower level than students who come to school knowing English, not because they have a disability (Mukhopadhyay & Sriprakash, 2011). Three, many schools do not offer remedial services, and most remedial schools charge high fees making them unaffordable to most children; so students get labeled but no support (CES, 2014).

Photo courtesy of Educate Girls Globally: www.educategirls.org

There are no equivalent local words for terms like LD or dyslexia (Gabel, 2004), suggesting that the lens by which these children are being identified is imported from the US. For instance, the definition for the term in the PWD Act is almost the same as that in the US Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (Unni, 2012). However, there are problems associated with importing LD. One, scholars in the US assert that the LD category is more a social construction than a condition with a biological basis (Duhaney, 2014; Harry, 2014; Sleeter, 1986). In the 1950s, many American students who were struggling academically were labeled LD and segregated in separate classrooms because of the competition from the US-USSR space race, rather than on the basis of medically-evidenced cognitive difficulties (Sleeter, 1986). Studies show that low-income students and students for whom English is not a first language are more likely to be labeled LD than students not similarly disadvantaged, suggesting that the identification of students is often dependent on teachers’ subjective perceptions of students’ academic difficulties (Duhaney, 2014; Harry, 2014). In India, Mukhopadhyay & Sriprakash (2011) found that when government schools failed to meet standards of school effectiveness, teachers began assessing increasing proportions of students from marginalized groups as “failing”. Another study found that the RTE Act mandate to reserve 25 percent seats in private schools for children from economically and socially marginalized communities to ensure access of education resulted in many children being subjected to overt discrimination by teachers who viewed them as ‘slow learners’, ‘weak’ or ‘unteachable’, and becoming reluctant to seek clarifications because they were “scared that teachers would scold, beat or insult them, or that peers would make fun of them for what they did not know” (CES, 2015, p. 56). This suggests that, as in the US, disadvantaged students are more likely to be identified as LD.

Two, programs and practices for LD students in the US emerge from a resource-rich model of service provision that is often incompatible with the Indian realities. For

instance, schools in India are expected to provide certain modifications required by law, but the process for procuring these services can be complicated and discouraging for most families, especially those from low-income backgrounds (Ghai, 2006). The shortage of LD specialists means that most schools do not provide on-site remedial services, and many remedial schools charge high fees for the specialized services, making them unaffordable to low-income students (CES, 2012). 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). Till recently, the American publishing company, Pearson, now based in India, was marketing diagnostic tools normed on the 2000 US Census “as a toolkit for assessing dyslexic students in Indian schools” (“Now, a toolkit,” 2012), suggesting that Indian children were being assessed and diagnosed as LD because they failed a test normed on US standards.

Photo courtesy of Educate Girls Globally: www.educategirls.org

Three, the importation of the US model tends to overlook the possibility of alternative frameworks for how disability is perceived and responded to (Breidlid, 2013; Grech, 2011). Grech (2011) recommends the need for eliciting local perceptions and understandings by adopting an assets lens. For instance, in one government Education For All program in India, many teachers and community members, recognizing that ability grouping was tantamount to discrimination and led to social conflicts, resisted the idea of labelling the children and separating them on that basis (Gandhe, 2004).

I have received a Fulbright research grant to conduct a study on this phenomenon. Using qualitative research techniques of open-ended interviews and classroom observations, I will seek to understand the meaning and effects of the label of learning disability in India by learning the perspectives of teachers on school failure and the factors necessitating labeling as well as the perspectives of students labeled LD and their families. The study will focus on two private, low-fee English-medium schools that currently identifies students as LD, since low-fee schools will be more likely to have students from low-income or non-English speaking home environments. I am hoping to use this forum to present my findings and preliminary analyses. Stay tuned for more!

Meet Dr. Kalyanpur


“10% of kids in India have learning disability: Experts say” (January 27, 2012) Times of India. Retrieved from: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-01-27/chennai/30669918_1_inclusive-education-disability-autism

Annual State of Education Report (ASER). (2015). Annual status of education report, 2014. New Delhi: Pratham.

Breidlid, A. (2013). Education, indigenous knowledges and development in the global South: Contesting knowledges for a sustainable future. New York: Routledge.

Center for Equity Studies (CES) (2014) India exclusion report, 2013-14. Bangalore: Books for Change.

Duhaney, L.M.G. (2014). Disproportionate representation in special education: A persistent stain on the field. In F. E. Obiakor & A. F. Rotatori (Eds.), Contemporary perspectives in special education: Multicultural education for learners with special needs in the 21st century (pp. 15-40). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Dyslexia Association of India (2011). Home page. Retrieved from: http://www.dyslexiaindia.org.in/

Gabel, S. (2004). South Asian Indian cultural orientations towards mental retardation. Mental Retardation, 42(1), 12-25.

Gandhe, S. K. (2004). External evaluation of Janshala programme: Synthesised report. Pune: Indian Institute of Education.

Ghai, A. (2002). Disability in the Indian context: Post-colonial perspectives. In M. Corker & T. Shakespeare, (Eds.) Disability/Postmodernity: Embodying disability theory. (pp. 88-100). Continuum: London.

“A ‘Goddess of English’ for India’s down-trodden” (February 15, 2011). BBC News. Retrieved from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-12355740

Grech, S. (2011). Recolonising debates or perpetuated coloniality? Decentring the spaces of disability, development and community in the global south. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 15(1), 87–100.

Harry, B. (2014). The disproportionate placement of ethnic minorities in special education. In L. Florian (Ed.). The SAGE Handbook of special education, vol. 1, 2nd Ed. (pp. 73-95). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Kalia, V & Reese, E. (2009). Relations between Indian children’s home literacy environment and their English oral language and literacy skills. Scientific Studies of Reading, 13(2), 122–145. DOI: 10.1080/10888430902769517

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.

Mukhopadhyay, R. & Sriprakash, A. (2011). Global frameworks, local contingencies: policy translations and education development in India. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 41(3), 311 — 326.

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.

“Now, a toolkit for dyslexic students in Indian schools” (July 25, 2012) The Times of India. Retrieved from: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-07-25/news/32847749_1_tool-kit-dyslexic-english-medium-schools

“The Pain of Dyslexia, as Told by Bollywood” (June 4, 2008). Washington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/03/AR2008060303201.html

Sleeter, C. E (1986) Learning disabilities: The social construction of a special education category. Exceptional Children, 53(1), 46-54.

Unni, J.C. (2012). Specific learning disability and the amended “Persons with Disability Act”. Indian Pediatrics, 49, 445-447. Retrieved from: http://medind.nic.in/ibv/t12/i6/ibvt12i6p445.pdf

Varma, P. (2007). We need to go back to the drawing board. In A. Kaushik (Ed.) Shiksha: The challenge of Indian education (pp. 41-50). New Delhi: Tehelka.



Classroom and school communication: insights from the profession

Distinguished Fellow Maureen Robinson from Stellenbosch University in South Africa shares insights from school principals and deputy principals about how to build a school environment that supports student learning. Paula

In May 2018 I invited six school principals and deputy principals from local primary and high schools to address two classes of final year Education students at Stellenbosch University on the topic Classroom communication: insights from the profession. The aim of the session was to share with student teachers real stories of how the speakers facilitate processes of communication at their schools – aimed at building a healthy environment that supports learning.

Aimèe Beerwinkel, student teacher, busy with microteaching at the university. The lesson was about the water crisis in Cape Town and was integrated into a Life Orientation lesson on the rights and responsibilities of children.

As I put it to the students: “We want you to hear the voices from the profession so that you can understand the challenges, structures and processes with regards to facilitating communication at all levels at school. We are looking for stories of challenges as well as possibilities; what teachers do to establish positive communication between learners, professional communication between teachers, and productive communication with the broader environment.”

The speakers were asked to address the following guiding questions:

  • How important is teacher-teacher and learner-teacher communication in building a healthy environment for learning at the school?
  • How does your school encourage professional communication between teachers?
  • How does your school encourage positive communication with learners?
  • What are some of the challenges you face in building trust and communication at your school? How do you deal with these?
  • Have you drawn on any professional development or academic programmes to shape your understanding of these issues? If so, which, and how have they shaped your understanding?

South Africa is one of the most inequitable societies in the world, and this plays itself out in the combination of wealth and poverty within a small radius around the university. The invited speakers represented a range of socioeconomic conditions surrounding the town of Stellenbosch – including well-resourced schools serving an affluent community, poorly-resourced schools serving a poverty-stricken community, and those serving a more mixed population.

Students hung on every word, as the speakers spoke with passion, and showed evidence of their commitment and dedication to their learners, often in difficult circumstances.

Here is some of the advice these principals and deputy principals shared with the prospective teachers:

School 1:

Trust people. Connect to children, but there must also be boundaries. Know and use the structures of the school. Use a buddy system where older children help the younger ones. This teaches them responsibility and leadership. Remember that you cannot grow a plant by dipping it into the dirt once a year, it takes an ongoing connection to build root system. You have the power to build a positive environment. Don’t display negative thinking and negative outlooks, or you will sound like a victim of someone else’s actions.

School 2:

One of the things that I’ve picked up in schools is that instead of working in collaboration, we work in isolation. We say “Oh, we’ve got the best practices in our school” but we never look beyond our institution. One of the good things is to communicate with fellow colleagues: “How do you do this, how do you approach this?” This is not necessarily related to your subject. I might ask a colleague of mine, “How do you deal with these huge classes?” “How do you deal with that difficult child?” Beyond that, “How do you deal with that difficult child who has a difficult parent?” When you open that communication you find that you are not in isolation.

School 3:

Just the way a teacher carries him or herself when coming into the class communicates to the learners in the class. Yesterday I realised again that those learners are psychologists. They analyse you. They look at you, the amount of enthusiasm you portray. They look at you and based on that they respond to the type of learning that is happening in class.

One of the challenges that has an impact on communication is the amount of stress that we are subjected to. I’ve had teachers start the day and greet me, and the next morning, the teacher is absent – they’re not coming back. This shows us the kind of challenges we face.

As a principal, I try and be as transparent as possible so that teachers know exactly where they stand with me, and I show them where I stand with them. An important aspect that I encourage at my school is that we must agree to disagree, and we must embrace each other’s’ differences, and in that way we can move forward.

School 4:

When a girl is young she may dream of her future husband, she has ideas about what she wants the husband to be like, he must be like this or like that. But then, she gets married and she gets the actual husband, not the one she has been dreaming of. It is the same with schools. When you are in university, you are told that this is what is happening in schools, and you expect certain things, but then experience the reality in schools. It can sometimes derail you.

It is very important to go into class prepared, because as soon as you open your mouth to start teaching, those learners will know if you are unprepared. But when you go to class prepared, those learners copy from you and come to class prepared. If they come to class prepared, it encourages you to prepare more to face the questions that you learn to expect.

A classroom of a South African school

The first thing that we need to inculcate to parents is that they need to own the school because if they don’t own the school, they will not look after the school. That comes from the fact that people come to my school from different areas, and don’t feel a committed sense of belonging.

School 5:

You’re going in to teaching to make a difference, and in making that difference you will have to communicate. There is the verbal communication – what you say – but also the non-verbal communication – how you say it. If you’re sitting in a desk lying back in your chair, what does that say to the learners who already don’t want to be there? Do you eat your lunch while you are teaching? You can’t expect your children to read if you are sitting watching TV. If you want your kids to work hard, you have to work hard. All these things are communication, and they say a lot about who you are and what type of behaviour you expect back.

I love social media and technology. Nuclear reactions can do two things: they can cure cancer, or make an atom bomb. It’s not the science or technology that is bad, it is how we use it. WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, e-mail, Google Classroom: you must use all of those. Google Classroom is the best thing, if you don’t know how to use it, learn how.

School 6:

You are all here because someone touched your lives. That is what we do as teachers and why we are in the profession. Yes we have to get through some content and there are exams at the end, but your job is to connect with people.

As a teacher, the most beneficial communication tool is to listen. You have to actively listen to your students if you want to know what makes them tick and what their cries for help are, but because you are so busy, it has to be an active listening if you want to really know your kids.

Try to understand the generation gap, because more experienced teachers next year will not understand you. You have a huge amount to give to them, but they will need the time and space and understanding that they have been there.

The children in your class will not remember what you said, but how you made them feel. You’re here because of a teacher who made a difference, and you probably can’t remember a single thing they taught you, but you remember how they made you feel.

Mkululu Nompumza, student teacher. He was teaching an English comprehension lesson in a school in Stellenbosch. He specifically chose a text that integrated English and History, focusing his discussion on agency in leading change.

Questions from the floor

A vibrant discussion followed, based on questions from the floor. Here are three examples of the questions that the student teachers asked:

  • With technology playing such an important role especially with the younger generation, cyberbullying is a huge issue. Have you seen it happen within the schools, or trickling into schools with kids being bullied in schools because cyberbullying that happened outside of school? And how do the teachers or the principal or structures in the school handle that?
  • When kids feel that they don’t want to be in school, what can teachers do to change that?
  • Most of us (students) are really young, and most teachers in schools are old – how do we bridge that generational gap?

My own observations as the lecturer

As the lecturer, I felt that the session certainly fulfilled its purpose. We crossed the bridge between university learning and school experience, as students were taken in meaningful ways into the lifeworld of these teachers. In an environment where teachers are often blamed for poor academic results or social ills, each one of these teachers modelled resilience and agency, thus building a positive picture of teachers as agents of change, even under trying circumstances. The presentations showed the wide spectrum of what it means to be a teacher: knowledge of one’s subject was emphasised, but there was also full recognition of the emotional lives of teachers as well as of their young learners. For the teachers too, this was a cathartic experience, as they gave expression to their own hopes and actions and were listened to by others. And finally, it was an opportunity to cross social barriers, as teachers from different socioeconomic circumstances could hear and respect one another’s unique and common circumstances. We will definitely do this again next year.


I would like to thank the following principals and deputy principals for sharing their insights: Ms Wendy Horn, Dr Ben Aucamp, Ms Victoria Hani, Mr Jeff King, Mr Gary Skeeles and Mr Deon Wertheim. Thanks also to Bernard Rhodes and Cailee Pistorius for technical support.

Meet Dr. Robinson



School Leaders: Beware the Traveling Medicine Doctor …and some website, book and blog suggestions

IMG_0493              ¡Saludos desde Perú!

I’m working with some highly talented colleagues from an NGO who want to make schools better places for children. Work doesn’t get any better than this!

Since we created this website last March with its weekly blog, many colleagues around the world have asked me to share some of my observations and favorite websites, blogs, books, etc. related to school leadership in underserved communities.

Here are a few ideas for you to consider. I will end the blog on a positive note, but first let me begin with something that I find far too common and troubling….

Perhaps you’ve seen movies or heard about the traveling medicine shows of the nineteenth century in the US. These ‘doctors’ (usually a man posing as a doctor) promoted miracle cures for whatever aliments where popular at the time. They told people who attended their ‘shows’ that these medicines could cure baldness or a disease, remove wrinkles, prolong lives or get rid of that nagging cough. They authoritatively said that these medicines were patented (not!) in order to make them sound official.

Well today, as I work in low and middle-income countries I am meeting the 21st century version of the traveling medicine doctor! They claim that if you follow what they are selling (their consulting services), learning in your school will improve. In most cases they are hired to do one workshop, but more and more frequently these slick, well-dressed consultants are selling the notion that you need them throughout the school year. When you remind them you are a school struggling financially, they say they will give you a ‘special rate’ for their services since schools and children are so important to them.

First, they may tell you they have an advanced university degree (it seems to impress people more if it’s from the US, UK or any ‘western’ nation) and many list their names as Drs. So & So. Far too often they either started taking courses in a doctoral program and never finished, or they bought their degree(s) from a ‘university’ selling degrees or they may have an honorary doctorate. Beware the honorary doctorates since they are often given by a ‘Theological University’ or ‘Bible College’ that also is likely to be a college their cousin created after starting his own church. And, the worst part is, many of them want you to call them Doctor. It is not acceptable for a person who has an honorary doctoral degree from an accredited university to call themselves ‘doctor’; yet, people uncritically accept these titles.

These traveling medicine doctors tend to have attractive PowerPoint presentations filled with animations, quotes from well-known scholars in education or leadership and they tell you what they are promoting is ‘evidence-based’ (i.e. comparable to ‘patented’ like our 19th century traveling show doctors!).

Sooner or later these Medicine Doctor Consultants will fade away like the US traveling Medicine Doctors, but how much money will be wasted before that happens? How many teachers will be taught to use strategies that have no evidence behind them?

I’m thrilled to see some changes taking place. Some staff in Ministries of Education are asking tough questions and wanting to see the evidence behind an intervention. And, many donors are asking for more evidence on the impact of interventions.

So, friends let’s do our best to uncover the snake oil doctors and destroy the idea of miracle elixirs! Education is hard, messy work—it’s not about calling in an expert “doctor.” There are no magic tricks to improve learning in your school.   It takes instructional leadership…so…follow the evidence!

Now for a few websites, blogs, articles and books for you to consider.

Three especially good education websites:

One of the best websites for evidence about programs is Robert Slavin’s– Best Evidence Encyclopedia   Using rigorous standards they identify ‘proven’ programs and topics at all levels of education.


The Hechinger Report

Here’s a book for you to consider: Urban Myths about Learning and Education (2015) by Dutch authors Pedro De Bruyckyere, Paul Kirschner, & Casper Hulshof.  The book debunks many of the (“Medicine Doctor’s”) claims, misunderstandings and misinterpretations of frequently cited educational research.

If you have a general interest in the African continent you may want to subscribe to Jeffrey Paller’s newsletter: This Week in Africa. It contains dozens of timely links to events and topics on the continent. And, if you are interested in development in general take a look at Duncan Green’s Oxfam blogs: Poverty to Power. Both sometimes have articles/links to topics of importance for those of us with an interest in school leadership.

There’s a newspaper that often has articles on education topics from around the world. It’s the Guardian and it’s free—but, if you find yourself reading more than more or two articles, please make a regular donation!

If you have an interest in Early Childhood education there’s an interesting audio recording (and transcript) from National Public Radio (May 30, 2018). It’s short and definitely worth listening to! Preschools in Ghana’s Capital Challenge Call-And-Response System

If you ever plan to write about Africa then this is the article for you: Binyavanga Wainaina’s How to Write About Africa.

Finally, if you haven’t yet signed up to receive our weekly blogs delivered directly to your mailbox, here’s the link to Global Ed Leadership. Under the heading “Resources” we include lots of books, websites, blogs on different topics in education, learning and leadership about different regions around the world.

Time to stop and get ready for a leadership and learning training I’m doing tomorrow. Saludos!




Brain Date* on Learning Transfer: Using Mobile Technology to Enhance Learning Transfer


Guest Blogger Corinne Brion talks about our work with using mobile phones as a professional development tool to improve learning transfer.

The purpose of the WhatsApp group was to examine the extent to which mobile technology played a role in enhancing learning transfer for school leaders in Ghana and Burkina Faso. The WhatsApp platform was used as a Professional Leaning Community (PLC) for everyone who participated in the three-day leadership training, provided that they were present on the last day of the training and had a Smart phone with the WhatsApp application. Everyone received the same message at the same time and was able to respond. WhatsApp allows anyone with access to a Smart phone and Wi-Fi to send individual and group messages anywhere in the world. It also allows sending and receiving photos, videos, recordings, and Word documents. I sent text messages via group texting.WHATS APP

On the last day of the training, the participants confirmed their contact information, provided the phone number they used for WhatsApp and agreed to be part of the PLC. A total of 23 participants were invited to join the WhatsApp group. The local NGO staff member in charge of education, as well as the two Ghanaian facilitators who conducted the leadership training, and the site director were also invited to the group as silent observers. The role of the silent observers was defined and explained to them before the intervention started. Later, I was able to ask the silent observers to read my findings, serving as member checkers. As the moderator and administrator of the WhatsApp group, my role was to send the text messages twice a week, monitor the answers, provide some written or oral feedback and encouragement, and answer questions. I also ensured that the norms were respected and that the purpose of the PLC remained intact. Norms for the group were discussed prior of the start of the intervention. Norms included: (1) the group was created to enhance and promote leadership conversations only as to help enhance networking among participants; (2) the group should not be used for personal or other purposes; and (3) everyone was encouraged to participate in the discussions/reflections. I sent a first text message to the cohort inviting the participants to join the WhatsApp group five days after the end of the training. Text messages were sent to the proprietors and head teachers for nine weeks starting two weeks after the school leadership training. The two-week grace period allowed participants to return to their school sites, share with colleagues, and reflect on the knowledge they had gained during the training. The intervention lasted nine weeks because four leadership modules were covered during the leadership training and I wanted to ask 2 follow up questions per module. On the last week of the intervention (week 9), I sought to receive the participants’ perspectives on the use of WhatsApp as a follow up method.

On Mondays the participants received a yes/no question and an open-ended question followed on Fridays of the same week. Participants could answer one question and not the other if they wished. There was a total of seven yes/no questions and nine open ended questions. The questions were all related to the content of the four modules taught during the three-day leadership training. This format was chosen to: (1) understand what kind of question triggered more participation; and (2) provide the participant a structure in which they could expect a yes/no question on Monday that gave them time to reflect in order to answer the open-ended question on Friday or over the following days. I asked questions directly related to the content of the four modules. An example of a yes/no question would be “Do you think your school is more inviting now as a result of the Edify leadership training you attended in July? Please respond YES or NO. Open ended questions included questions such as “Have you made your school more inviting this week? If you made any changes add any photos and/or videos of what you have changed.

The study participants unanimously stated that the WhatsApp intervention was helpful to transfer new knowledge after the training for several reasons. They commented that it allowed them to learn from each other, and it reminded them of the training, its content, and the School Improvement Plans. The intervention also encouraged and motivated the participants to put into action what they had learned during the training. One participant stated: “We were expecting your messages, so we knew we did not have time to seat down and relax, your follow up helped us to remember what we had seen in the training.” Even those who did not know how to type stated that it was “brilliant and very helpful.” One school leader shared: “WhatsApp helped me because I could read and see what my colleagues were doing in their schools. I took some ideas and also got motivated by what some did.”

Network and Peer Learning

The use of WhatsApp allowed the workshop participants to share information and “encouraged those who were not responding to questions to sit up.” A woman leader added: “Comments from my colleagues always draw my attention back to what was learned at the workshop. The answers given were helpful and made us conscious of what others were doing. We got ideas and copied some ideas.” Most participants shared that they were happy to hear from colleagues after the training, keeping “the good atmosphere beyond the training.” Finally, one leader spoke of the fact that he learned vicariously and said “despite the fact that I never wrote anything on the platform I was reading all the messages and learned a lot from the others that way.”

            Reminder, Peer Pressure, Motivation and Encouragement

All leaders suggested that being active on the WhatsApp platform was motivating because of the peer pressure. When leaders saw pictures on the phone of what colleagues improved in their schools, they would be inclined to do the same and share their progress on the platform. A leader shared: “When I see other schools making so many changes, I must make some too! I liked what some of my colleagues did and I must now try to do the same at my school. If they can do it, why can’t I, I must at least try and show them.” Another participant stated, “I do not go to the others’ schools but I see pictures they send and it helps me to change too.” Two other persons commented: “Usually after training, people feel reluctant to use what was learned but this gave us pressure and motivation and it always reminded us to do what we set to do.” Participants also commented on the encouragement they would receive from other participants and from the group moderator when new learning was transferred: “We felt encouraged because you [the researcher] wrote to us and asked us more questions when you did not understand or wanted us to share more.”

            Norms and Structure

All participants appreciated that the rules were clear and given before the intervention started. One leader referred to the norms as: “nothing to waste.” According to him the norms promoted learning by staying on task. Two leaders stated that people who did not respect the rules were “detractors” and they appreciated when I intervened and restated the rules immediately. He stated it in this way “Let us stick to the reason for what the group was created. Not everyone is a fan on what others are posting.”

All participants shared that they enjoyed the structure of the questioning and the quality of the questions. They enjoyed receiving a yes/no question on Mondays when it was busy and the open-ended questions on Fridays when they had the weekend to read, think and respond. “I was always eager to see what message you [the researcher] sent even if I could not look at work. I would go home and look at what you sent because I knew to expect a message on certain days and I knew I had time to think about the question before responding.”

            WhatsApp Beyond the Training

After this intervention, all participants stated that WhatsApp should be used for all trainings. Two participants indicated that they would like to use WhatsApp in their own work and with their teachers, using the application to ask the teachers a few questions prior to their weekly teachers’ meeting. “I thank you because now I will use this with my teachers and this will force them to prepare effectively before a meeting.”

Participants also shared that since the training content was helpful and relevant to their context, they were willing to engage in the WhatsApp. One school leader claimed: “You see often times you go to training, but the materials is not appropriate for us and we do not learn anything. Here we learned because of new research you presented but also because you made is relevant to our needs and schools. That is why we wanted to continue the learning and sharing on WhatsApp.”

The data indicated that participants perceived WhatsApp as being a useful tool to enhance the transfer of learning because it enabled them to learn from each other, reminded them of the workshop and of their school improvement plans and encouraged them in general. They shared that the pictures other leaders posted on the platform encouraged them to transfer learning to their schools, referring to it as peer pressure. According to the participants, WhatsApp appeared to be an efficient way to follow up with workshop participants post training. It helped participants remember the goals they had set for themselves and reminded them of the content of the training. WhatsApp was also appreciated because it is a platform the participants knew how to use, and it is readily accessible and available. One head teacher exclaimed “WhatsApp was a great idea to follow up with us because we use it already, we just never thought of using it among us educators and after a training”.

“WhatsApp was brilliant, you should use it after each training and in fact I am now planning to use it with my teachers.”

These two pictures were posted on the WhatsApp platform after the training. Brion Blog no. 2They exemplify how school leaders took the content of the training module on nutrition, made a poster of the food pyramid and invited parents to a PTA meeting on nutrition. A video of the meeting was also posted on the platform for everyone to see.


*The term brain date is used as a way to foster conversations and reflections among like-minded educators and educational leaders.

Meet Dr. Brion

A Model for Leadership Training in Low-Fee Private Schools (LFPSs) in Sub-Saharan Nations


Over the last five or so years a team comprised of faculty, graduate students and practitioners from the University of San Diego has been conducting trainings and research as well as coaching school leaders in six sub-Saharan nations and three countries in Central/South America. Our work has been predominantly with two international NGOs that provide capital to local micro-finance institutions for loans to schools. These schools are referred to as Low-Fee Private Schools (LFPSs)[1] and most are small family-run businesses. It’s estimated that there are over 1 million LFPSs in emerging nations (Economist, Kwan).

This will be my first blog about our work and it may be of interest if you are working in the same countries and/or for those of you who are part of the conversation (debate!) about the role of private schooling in low and middle-income nations. It’s a contentious topic and we’ll explore it in a future blog.

But first, I’ll begin with the genesis of our projects and what we have done in Ghana where the work began. It started with a donor who supported two NGOs (Opportunity International and Edify) who asked us to explore whether or not receiving school loans impact student learning. For financial and research-related reasons (e.g., insufficient funding to conduct a Randomized Control Trial) we haven’t quite answered this particular question; however, we have explored whether the training that accompanies a school loan is correlated with school improvement (Brion & Cordeiro, 2017). In this blog, I describe our work with one of the NGOs.

Morning Assembly at a low-cost private school

In 2012, while I was still dean at the University of San Diego, Chris Crane, the founder of Edify, a faith-based NGO, visited my office and asked if I would send a team to Ghana and the Dominican Republic to explore a possible partnership between Edify and the University. He wanted to know what trainings Edify might offer their education clients.   The research on micro-lending discusses the importance of offering lending clients training as well as capital (Lyby 2006). Edify provides capital to local micro-lenders who in turn provide small loans to the LFPSs. Usually the trainings that accompany a loan are about fiscal sustainability; however, Chris beleived that the trainings offered should go beyond budgeting and include education-related topics.

During the initial visits to Ghana, we interviewed numerous school leaders, teachers and parents. Edify told us they assumed we would recommend teacher training; however, it became clear after the interviews that the focus should be on school proprietors and their leadership teams. We discovered that teacher turnover was particularly high (40-50%) and yet many school leaders didn’t realize the extent of the problem nor had given much thought as to how to lessen teacher turnover. Ghana has a nationwide shortage of qualified teachers. Although the school proprietors requested teacher trainings, they also told us they themselves needed to learn more about operating an educational organization since no or few trainings of any kind were offered locally. Thus, we recommended that building the capacity of the school leadership team should be the priority for any trainings, since leadership is key to improving student learning (Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004).

We then considered the issue of what the training should be comprised of, especially since after conducting a thorough literature review, we found little literature about private schooling in these countries and most local universities offered no specialized training or professional development appropriate for a private school context. As Barnett discussed in his April 11, 2018 blog on this website, there are three types of national educational systems and Ghana’s falls into the loosely regulated system category because preparation programs and professional learning experiences for school leaders are sparse or non-existent.

After numerous conversations with officials at the Ghanaian Education Service, school leaders, university faculty and Edify staff, we developed the following model:

Our Model for Building the Capacity of School Leaders

Theory of Action: Strengthen the Capacity of the School Leadership Team in order to Improve Student Learning Outcomes

Based on the data collected while in country, a review of the literature and topics requested by school leaders, three school leadership, evidence-based modules were created: Improving the Conditions for Learning (3 days); Leading for Learning (2 days); and Creating and Developing Early Childhood Programs (2 days). Topics include nutrition, ensuring a safe and adequate school facility, creating an inviting school culture, what it means to be an instructional leader and the key role that early learning plays, among many more.

A train-the-trainer (TOT) model is used and each country has a minimum of 3-5 trainers with numerous additional ones in the pipeline. Since training is only as good as the trainers, we’ve found the TOT approach to be a key part of our strategy.

Another essential ingredient is the pedagogy used in all parts of the model.  The training curriculum uses active learning strategies such as role playing, case studies, and problem-based projects, to name but a few.  The trainers themselves must be comfortable using these teaching strategies and this has been challenging for many trainers since in their own education they were typically not exposed to active pedagogies.

School Leaders participating in the training modules, “Leading for Learning” prioritizing what they believe are important dispositions for teachers.

Once the modules are delivered, a trained Education Specialist visits the school and coaches the leadership team in carrying out the School Development Plan that was created during the trainings.   We’ve also developed an instrument referred to as the School Self-Assessment Instrument (SSAI); there are three different versions depending on the school level. It’s used by the leadership team and explores various aspects of the school, including personnel, facilities and the curriculum. We beta-tested the SSAI in numerous schools over a two-year period and it’s now used by any school wishing to engage in deep reflection about their school’s growth. Another component of the model is using mobile technology (we use the WhatsApp platform) to share questions and post photos that are tied to the content of the modules.


Additionally, we have an annual leadership conference. The local team, with assistance from a Planning Committee comprised of school leaders, designs and delivers a one-day conference for all leaders who have participated in the trainings.

The final key aspect of the model is the incubation of networks in order to create Communities of Practice. These networks are for school leaders as well as teachers. Local staff have created numerous special interest groups (e.g., early Childhood educators; IT teachers, leaders interested in construction and facilities, etc.). Sometimes they meet electronically and other times in person. They might decide to visit schools with certain programs or simply create a study group. Edify staff assist school leaders by connecting them with schools that have strong programs in areas that the proprietors and Head Teachers are interested. Some of these professional learning networks are ongoing, while others cease when they have accomplished their goals.

IMG_4056 (1)
Dr. Mike Amakyi, a trainer and Professor from the University of Cape Coast, awards a certificate to a school principal.

One network that we hadn’t planned was the request by the school leaders that we make available the option of taking the trainings for Continuing Education Credit. Since the vast majority of these school leaders have never participated in any formal school leader preparation or professional learning activity, they were eager to earn a certificate. We now have a cadre receiving a USD certificate in “Independent School Leadership.”

Rosemary Ohene-Bredu, proprietor of Ahenemba International School



We have contextualized the training modules for Ghana and we are launching an implementation in all eleven countries Edify works in.  The contextualization includes using local knowledge, organizations, policies and language. The trainings and modules are in a variety of languages including English, French, Spanish, Amharic (for Ethiopia) and Kinyarwanda (for Rwanda).

One could argue that this is a boutique program and that policy levers are far more important, and I would agree. Policy is key! However, I also believe much can be learned from NGOs working deeply and thoughtfully in this space. Edify is one of those NGOs. If you would like access to the modules or the SSAI, just shoot me an email.


[1] The literature uses several terms interchangeably—Affordable Private Schools (APSs), Budget Private Schools (BPS), Low-Cost Private Schools (LCPSs) and Low-Fee Private Schools (LFPSs). The latter term is used here since it is frequently cited in the literature.

Student Exhibitions as a Lever to Support School Change

Heather Lattimer provides insights for school leaders about improving school-wide changes around instruction and assessment. Dr. Lattimer offers examples from schools in the US and Kenya.

“I just don’t know how to get more buy-in,” a school principal who was trying to move her school to adopt a Deeper Learning approach told me recently. “I’ve taken teachers to conferences, had workshops here on campus, formed books clubs, and done demonstration lessons in classrooms myself, but most teachers seem to be only half-hearted in their efforts to use approaches that support Deeper Learning. They make an effort when they know that I’m going to visit but they revert right back to the traditional norm after I leave. I know that they want to be successful but they’ve been so ingrained with instructional practices geared toward standardized test preparation that it is very difficult to encourage a different approach, even if they know that it is what their kids need for long term success.”

Daraja Academy Nanyuki Kenya

This lament is all-too-common. Changing school culture around instructional practice and norms is challenging. This is especially true when the teaching and learning environment have been dominated by high-stakes tests that determine the futures of both our students and our educators. Whether we like it or not, the elements that are assessed are the elements that get prioritized. If national standardized end-of-year or end-of-school tests are the norm – particularly if the results of those tests are public, then the instruction will necessarily focus on preparing students for those tests.

If assessments are designed well and if they reflect the learning outcomes that we want for our students, then “teaching to the test” can be a real positive. The challenge is that most standardized tests are only able to assess a relatively narrow slice of knowledge, skills, and dispositions that our students need to be successful in the 21st century. Standardized tests can do a great job of assessing factual recall in particular subject areas but are not great instruments for assessing students’ abilities to grapple with real world challenges, synthesize information and ideas across disciplines, and present and defend their ideas to authentic audiences. To teach and assess students’ abilities to engage in this type of problem solving and critical thinking – skills which surveys of employers repeatedly indicate are critically important for career success – we must move beyond standardized tests and explore new ways to teach and demonstrate students’ learning.

Daraja Academy exhibition

One approach that has worked successfully to support school-wide changes in practice around instruction and assessment involves student exhibitions. Exhibitions make students’ learning visible by showcasing their work through public displays of student writing, projects, performances, presentations, or other artifacts. Unlike the typical awards or presentations that involve only the “best” students, exhibitions involve all students across a class, grade level, or throughout the school. They engage the larger community by inviting other students, parents, educators, and community stakeholders to come view the work and provide feedback. This public, transparent, and inclusive approach can help to strengthen student achievement, build a strong sense of school community and pride, and encourage equitable teaching practices and learning outcomes.

Meet Dr. Lattimer

Educate Girls Globally Recruiting Partners for Breakthrough   Empowerment of Girls in Government Schools

Guest bloggers A. Lawrence Chickering and Anjula Tyagi share the story of Educate Girls Globally (EGG) a non-profit that assists government ministries of education to reform schools by empowering girls to learn and to lead. 

From the beginning of our first operations in India nearly twenty years ago, we knew we were going for it all. ‘Going for it all’ meant two things. First, for scale, it Photo for blog Lawry & Anjulameant working in government schools, which most NGOs avoid. Second, to weaken the influence of traditional culture and help girls, it meant empowering communities (including girls) to advance beyond traditional, passive roles and to become active, entrepreneurial changemakers.  Our aim was to develop for ministries of education a model and ‘tool kit’ for reforming government schools.

We adopted our reform model from an NGO in the south Indian state of Karnataka, and we began operations in northern India, state of Uttarakhand, in 2002.

Across the world education reform generates opposition and conflict, paralyzing reform and producing no action. Our model was (is) very simple, working from the grass roots up and solving the political challenges, generating no opposition. Departments of Education accepted the program, which ‘mobilizes community support for schools’.

Governments loved the program from the beginning. Our purpose was to transfer the model to governments and other entitles that would help us scale, and we knew we would start on the path to full transfer when a government requested us to expand to all schools in a jurisdiction. That moment arrived recently when a district government in Uttarakhand (Udhamsinghnagar) requested us to expand from 50 secondary schools (25,000 kids, two-thirds girls) to all 1,116 schools in the district, serving about 330,000 children.

The government made clear its intention to expand the model throughout the state and to other states by providing for EGG training of government officials in other places. They and we wanted the agreement and project to be a model for all of India.  Our hope was that the federal Ministry of Education in New Delhi would endorse the model for every school in the country.

The challenge of culture and demand-side reform

Most education reform focuses on the supply side of schools—teacher training, curricula, infrastructure—and ignores the demand side, which is primarily about students’ motivation. Many parents believe that motivation is the most important factor in learning. They know that a motivated child will learn anywhere, while an unmotivated child will not learn anywhere.

Motivation is influenced by family and community support for education.Traditional societies in fact tend to demotivate everyone, but especially girls, whom tradition assigns to low-status, passive roles that limit individual aspiration, which is essential for learning. Thus, empowering people to advance beyond traditional to self-determined selves is a primal EGG objective.

We were determined from the beginning to show that traditional people, especially girls, are not ‘victims’ who need to be rescued from ‘oppressors’ (either powerful groups or culture) but can be empowered to play active roles in promoting change.

IMG_5762EGG addresses this issue head-on especially in relation to girls by empowering them to become leaders, learners, and role models. The program weakens the influence of traditional culture by empowering  traditional communities and girls to advance from passive, tradition-directed selves to active, self-directed selves.  People living by traditional roles are passive objects.  As objects, they can play no role in promoting change. When self-directed, they become active subjects and powerful changemakers. 

Although this truth is the key to development in all forms, most development ventures ignore it.  Understanding that development depends on the crucial resource of people as subjects—and seeing it operationally—is evident to anyone who sees EGG’s program first-hand.  

OWNERSHIP is a core concept that promotes empowerment and runs through all aspects of the program. The first community meeting addresses it with this initial question: Who owns the school? It is only when people understand that the school can never be any better than they themselves make it that they understand that they are the real owners, not the government.

The Girls’ Parliaments play a crucial role in girls’ empowerment, promoting them as leaders and role models in co-educational schools—separate from boys. They play an important role in empowering girls to advance from objects to subjects. Two empowerment moments are especially important:

Girls’ Parliament
  • When dropout girls stand in early public meetings and ask to return to school for ‘a chance in life’; and
  • When Girls Parliaments say they want to admit boys.  How many?  Their answer is 50-50—no advantage in numbers.  Even traditional girls become ready to go toe-to-toe with boys.  This is the moment when girls become genuinely equal to boys.

Neuroscience explains why the men respond empathically and embrace the girls. They move from indifference to educating girls one minute to active support for it the next minute.

Action Projects also reflect and stimulate empowerment. Led by the SchoolManagement Committees, communities establish priorities for improving schools—PLLA1332primarily building or repairing infrastructure (clean water, toilets, and maintenance). Ownership and self-governance mean the communities decide about what the schools most need, and they act on them. They do it without any subsidy from EGG. Empowering people to help themselves (deciding what they want to do and doing it) is very different from the common practice of experts telling people ‘what they need’.

The action projects recall a famous statement from T.E. Lawrence, writing in 1917 about the Arabs: ‘Do not try to do too much with your own hands,’ Lawrence wrote. ‘Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. . . [T]he work . . . may take them longer and it may not be as good as you think, but if it is theirs, it will be better.’

This insight first suggests the importance of ownership, which is reflected both from what people do and from deciding what to do. Focusing on ownership rather than the form of help (a well) focuses on the psychology of people helped rather than on theIMG_8278 substance of the help. The help (a well) is about the present; the psychology of the recipient is about the future. Empowerment through ownership is crucial for sustainability. Unfortunately, it often conflicts with a primal mantra of philanthropy, which is results. Despite nearly-universal agreement about ownership, people tend quickly to forget it when making and implementing plans, which are about tangible objectives and measurable results.

Ownership is about sustainability and the future. The idea is that how something is done is more important than what is done—process over substance. This captures the essence of empowerment, which occurs when people do things for themselves—when they own what they do. This requires accepting an imperfect present for a powerfully sustaining future.

Our breakthrough moment   

We chose to work in government schools to reach the poorest kids and to achieve the scale and sustainability that only governments control. Our breakthrough moment IMG_1349occurred when a district in Uttarakhand (‘District One’) requested us to expand to all 1,116 schools in the district—primary, middle, and secondary. The government offered to share the cost.

Showing potential government demand for the model, the district next door (District Two), mostly Muslim and of a similar size, soon informed us that they wanted a similar agreement to expand to every school in that district as well. Without any effort to market the model to them, their interest was generated entirely word-of-mouth.

We believe our model will scale most quickly by recruiting partners who want to try it. We have thus made a decision to transfer the model to any potential partner (NGO or government) willing to implement it as we designed it. We will provide training, monitoring, and evaluation. Organizations interested in joining EGG’s network of partners are encouraged to write to us at info@educategirls.org, attention: Lawrence Chickering.

This project has the potential to change the face of India—and indeed of the developing world. We hope we will hear from you soon. You can read more about us on our website (www.educategirls.org).

Meet the Authors

Strategic Directions for the Field of School Leadership – Lessons from the Ground

Guest bloggers Sameer Sampat and Azad Oommen, co-founders of Global School Leaders, discuss four key issues about school leaders that we all need to consider as we look at the education leadership ecosystem.

Over the past couple of years, we have been developing school leadership programs across the Global South. Our work on this issue

Sameer Sampat

began in India, where we led the creation of the India School Leadership Institute, which is now running continuous professional development programs for around 400 school leaders every year. Today, our organization, Global School Leaders, is working in Malaysia and in the process of starting up programs in Indonesia and Kenya.

As we have explored the spaces of school leadership, we find that there are a number of issues to be addressed to create a vibrant ecosystem.

Azad Oommen

This blog offers suggestions for measures on the issue of school leadership that would help advance this key lever of education.


Create integrated approaches to school leadership – Too often, countries are looking at school leadership merely from the standpoint of training school leaders. Of course, training is critical because being a school leader is a vastly different job than being a teacher, and too many existing leaders have not been trained for their position. However, introducing training without simultaneously addressing selection and accountability is not sufficient for a comprehensive investment in school leadership.

We believe that in order to improve leadership, school systems must simultaneously develop capacity in three areas:

  1. Pipeline: Develop systems to attract, identify, and select leaders.
  2. Support: Support leaders through pre-service and continuous professional development programs.
  3. Accountability: Define the leader’s role and have a system of results-based recognition, accountability, and career progression. 
School Leadership Training

Implement standards for school leaders competencies – We find wide variances in education system structures and the autonomy given to school leaders across countries. These range from the control teachers have to deliver curriculum in the classroom to school leaders’ ability to influence change in their schools. However, school leaders often do not have a clear sense of their role in the process and the competencies they must demonstrate to deliver against these expectations.

Many countries have been through extensive processes to create national qualification frameworks for school leaders, such as the United States, the UK, South Africa, Malaysia and Indonesia (see Bruce Barnett’s blog April 11, 2018 Principal Preparation and Development: Highly Regulated or Loosely Structured?). We believe that these competency frameworks are the starting point for improving school leadership, because they give concrete expression to a system’s ideals of the role of a school leader. From these frameworks, we can design recruitment pipelines, training methodologies and accountability measures for school leaders. However, many countries do not have such standards and this causes training to be delivered without the school leaders understanding what is expected of them.

One idea we have is to build on the commonalities in existing country frameworks to create an agreed upon international basic standard for school leaders that can then be adapted by individual countries for their specific needs. For instance, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is currently working on ISO/PC 288, which will create standards for the field of educational organizations management systems.

Use technology effectively to address shortages of high quality trainers – A key challenge to implementing scalable training programs for school leaders is the limited availability of high quality trainers and the high cost of in-person trainings. Online programs hold the promise of overcoming these limitations and creating learning opportunities that can deliver self-paced, continuous professional development programs. While there has been a lot of focus on online learning for teachers, there are few programs designed for school leaders.

The Harvard Business School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education are piloting a school leadership course. In addition, the National Centre for School Leadership, an Indian government institution, is launching on online school leadership training program. There are also less-structured professional learning opportunities such as the Global Schools Forum’s webinar series that has highlighted examples of school leader training programs in Uganda, India and Kenya.

Online learning encompasses a wide range of courses – from video-taped lectures to presentations to more interactive methods. For the developing world, we believe that as data access becomes more prevalent, we need to create mobile-centric learning systems that addresses school leader competencies. Based on our experience training school leaders in India and Malaysia, we believe that what would work best are short video-based courses, coupled with online coaching and virtual peer networks to support learning.

Use of data to improve support for school leaders – One surprising factor for us as we look at school leaders across countries is how little information is easily accessible about them. We know very little about average tenure, career progression, and even basic demographics to ensure adequate representation of various groups in the leadership ranks in schools.

For instance, we know that in many countries, women form a large proportion of primary school teachers, but a much lower proportion become school leaders. There is very little research on the systemic impact of female school leaders on schools and learning, but if we draw on widely accepted views from other industries, diversity in leadership ranks should lead to better schools.

With little research about demographics and career management, it is very difficult to understand systemic interventions that could improve school leadership.

Despite these large opportunities still to be addressed in school leadership, we are encouraged by initiatives around the world. The World Bank’s World Development Report 2018 highlighted the need for increased investment in leadership and management within school systems. At the WISE conference in Qatar in 2017, the Qatar Foundation announced the launch of ALL-IN, a global school leadership development network.   All of these initiatives point toward a growing global interest in school leadership. We must capitalize on this momentum to drive toward ecosystem-wide initiatives on this issue so that we can avoid fragmented efforts and leverage the limited resources being allocated to this sector.

In sum, we must think about school leadership beyond just the necessary measures to ensure that school heads receive adequate preparation for their role. The conversation in the field needs to be comprehensive, and policy makers, academics and practitioners must find ways to collaborate and strengthen this critical lever of education systems around the world.

Meet Sameer Sampat and Azad Oommen



An HIV-Free Generation in Africa: Can an Education-Reimagination Get Us There?

AidChild Leadership Institute (ALI) is an NGO based in Entebbe Uganda doing remarkable work throughout the country. Here the founder, Dr. Nathaniel Dunigan, shares his dream for an HIV-free generation.

On Friday evening, I was seated in an American friend’s large and tasteful home in Kampala, Uganda. Earlier in the day, I had traveled from my own home in Entebbe. She has lived here for 20 years, and I have been here for 18. Our reunions always begin with a discussion of traffic. Uganda’s enormous population boom and the emergence of a middle class mean that roadways are always very congested.

My friend has a personal driver for her daily commute of more than an hour—and that’s just traveling across town. “As you know, I spend a lot of time in traffic and observing,” she started. “So, get this: there’s a new guy who has emerged at one intersection, selling grated cabbage and carrots car-window to car-window—along with all the many other street vendors. He has a dish basin strapped at stomach level—hanging from his neck—and he grates the veggies into the basin. But what I can’t figure out,” she continued, “is why on earth anyone would want to buy that, and how does he give it to them? I never see any plastic bags or containers. It’s the strangest thing.”

The next day, I shared the story with one of my Ugandan colleagues, and he said, “You’re kidding, right? I mean, you know what’s happening there, don’t you?”

“No, I really don’t,” I said.

“The man is selling graters, and he’s using the cabbage and carrots to demonstrate how they work,” he said.

I share this story in our context of global education leadership for the following reasons:

  • In our global society, no matter how seasoned or thoughtful we may be, outside our own culture, we will occasionally (perhaps frequently) miss the obvious. Our success as global education leaders will forever be linked to community and relationships—to partnerships that foster inclusion and voice from a variety of individuals who will see (and express) the obvious when we miss it. This is true not just in the context of Americans living in Uganda, but also for New Yorkers in L.A., Iranians in Tokyo, Canadians in Brazil, etc.
  • Africa is booming. Despite the fact that Uganda has more road fatalities than most any other nation in the world (URSSI 2018) as well as poverty and a host of public health challenges, the population continues to grow at a tremendous rate. While Uganda is relatively small in terms of geographic size (the 82nd largest in the world), the country currently ranks at number 32 in terms of population size, and is projected to be number 18 by 2050 (Worldmeters) (CIA) .
  • Technology—of every kind—is changing everything from cabbage and carrots to politics and education, bringing both progress and risk.

On Thursday, the day before my visit to my friend in Kampala, the local electric company came to install a pay-as-you-go meter on my kitchen wall. We are among the last in our neighborhood to get this. A printed monthly bill will no longer be delivered to our gate. Instead, we will purchase units of power in advance—using our cellphones. As my son purchased our first allotment, and then entered the code into the keypad on the wall—and as the house sprang to life and light—I said to him, “Never, ever, ever could I have imagined this 18 years ago. I couldn’t even fathom a life here that included consistent power back then, let alone the mobile and satellite technology that just made our transactions possible.”

It all seemed perfectly normal to my son.

Gone are the days of traveling to a phonebooth in town to (hopefully) make a successful call. Now, while only 22% of Uganda’s population have power as I do, more than 52% have a cellphone—and often more than one (mobile phone usage in Uganda: USAID and the Daily Monitor.

It’s time to re-fathom, to reimagine what is possible, what we need to be doing now in order for the next generation to see as “normal” what we see as “impossible.”

For me, that is the goal of an HIV-free generation. In late 2000, I founded AidChild, an NGO serving orphans living with AIDS. Access to life-saving medication was impossible at that time, meaning we were a hospice facility. In 2002, we became the first in Uganda (and among the first in the world) to offer free antiretroviral therapy to children (thanks to a partnership with the AIDS Healthcare foundation). We were quickly selected as a model of pediatric HIV-AIDS care for the continent—by USAID, the CDC, and the Uganda Ministry of Health.

In May of 2017, my colleagues and I knew that it was time to reimagine yet again. We opened a Leadership Institute in Entebbe where we are creating a new model of leadership development—with

this goal of an HIV-free generation. Members of the original cohort of drug recipients in 2002 are the institute’s inaugural interns. No longer “orphans and vulnerable children,” our interns are young professionals and changemakers in training, volunteering in the community, developing their own social capital, hosting public events, engaging with our 2,000 book-library, connecting to a global community, and creating a new human development center to serve the academic and wellness needs of the generation that follows them.

So, what ingredients are needed to achieve an HIV-free generation? The reality must come from our interns’ generation. For years, the global community has rightly focused on access to water, food, medication and education in the region. Now it’s time to reimagine what that “education” must look like as we focus on the root of this wondrous possibility, which—as with so many other things—is power. I offer that an education-reimagination—in addition to academic rigor—might be driven by the following convictions:

  • Young women and men must be afforded—and then be able to understand and embrace—personal power. Herein, we as people are able to make stronger choices about sexual behavior, family planning, partner choice, etc. This power is constructed (or deconstructed) through our personal milieus, including our senses of security and of being loved.
  • All stakeholders must be offered an understanding of the distinction between our higher and lower natures. This is only possible in a life that allows and offers cognitive space beyond survival alone. Wellness and wholeness are not even abstract constructs when one doesn’t know where their next meal will come from. The above discussions show how much progress we have had here—but more must be done.
  • Marginalized communities must be normalized. Frank and open conversations about stigmatized groups—as well as engagement with them—are what foster tolerance in a generation that follows one of intolerance.
  • The capacity and desire to think beyond the here-and-now must be nurtured. In my book “We Are Not Mahogany,” I explore the dangers of a full-focus on the moment—due to a misguided conviction that one just isn’t going to live very long.

It is important to add that excellent and accessible prenatal care must also be made available throughout the region. Without this and other medical interventions and offerings, this goal truly is impossible.

It must also be said that a blogpost cannot get anywhere close to a fair unpacking of the many components of this enormous goal, but as with all reimaginations, their lives are conceived by giving them voice.

And I welcome your voice as well. Please offer your pushback and feedback below.

Meet Dr. Dunigan

Contact Dr. Dunigan:



The Importance of Early Childhood Education in an Age of Global Disruption

Steve Jacobson writes about his work with colleagues in New Zealand as they study ECE and how school leaders can assist parents. ECE is the foundation for learning and it’s crucial that all school systems provide high quality, evidence-based programs. Paula

It has long been understood that a high quality Early CPicture1hildhood Education (ECE) has tremendous potential for enhancing a child’s future academic success, especially for youngsters from economically disadvantaged communities. This belief has been reconfirmed by findings from the Perry Preschool study in the US, which indicated that ‘quality’ ECE (not just any ECE) is a cost-efficient approach for improving the long-term school and career success of children, with societal returns of roughly $16 for every $1 spent (Schweinhart et al., 2005). In a recent study of three high quality ECE centers in New Zealand that serve diverse communities confronting various levels of economic disadvantage, my colleague Ross Notman of the University of Otago and I found another benefit, one that is harder to quantify, but one we feel is particularly relevant in this current period of global disruption and migration. Specifically, we found that while the ECE leaders in the centers we studied were most concerned with the social, emotional and intellectual development of the youngsters in their care, they were also very committed to improving the parenting skills of their youngsters’ parents. This was most notably the case for families fleeing political upheavals in parts of Europe and Southeast Asia and natural catastrophes in other parts of New Zealand, such as the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch. For many of these parents, especially those who were first time parents, these relocations had led to a separation from their extended families and traditional supports for childrearing from parents and other relatives that they would have otherwise anticipated had their lives not been disrupted. As a result of these events, they now had to bring in an income and parent, but without the familial support they would have had prior to the disruption.

A preschool in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo taken with permission in February 2018 by PAC

The global magnitude and impact of such disruptions cannot be overstated. For example, data from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees indicated that world-wide, immigration in 2013 reached 232 million, a figure larger than that of Brazil, the world’s fifth most populous nation. In other words, across the globe an increasing number of parents are having to go without the intergenerational wisdom and support of an extended family. Especially for the first-time parents in our study, we found that it was their child’s ECE leaders and teachers who were filling that gap by teaching them how to deal with challenging childhood behaviors such as anxiety, tantrums and/or physical aggression, many of which were exacerbated by the family’s relocation and dire economic circumstances.

Young children need exposure to lots and lots of books, something that is often a challenge in schools in marginalized communities. PAC




Our study revealed how important it was for these high-need ECE settings to become what Epstein (2011) has called a ‘family-like school’, in order to partially fill the familial gaps these parents were experiencing. The ECE leaders we studied worked hard to encourage their teachers to view parents as partners and provide them with helpful strategies and resources to support their children outside of school, which would go a long way to complement what faculty were doing in the center. Many of the parents we studied were confronting the types of socio-economic challenges common to high need communities, such as being a single parent household, having limited formal education, living below the poverty line, having unstable housing accommodations and limited time for their children. Moreover, having been displaced and cut off from their traditional familial support networks, the centers’ nurturing and engaging environments enabled them to begin to feel comfortable in entrusting their young ones to the center’s care and, more importantly, to begin modeling the parenting skills of the center’s skilled educational professionals. Parents told us how, once they began to develop some trust, they began to emulate at home what teachers and leaders had done in school as they dealt with the more challenging behaviors exhibited by their youngsters. Since many of these parents were not well-educated, nor familiar with the range of services available to them, they also very much appreciated the support they received from center leaders and teachers in identifying additional professional supports their children needed. This overlap between school and family deliberately developed by the center leaders helped these young, displaced parents build confidence in their own parenting abilities. As previously noted, we believe that these newly-learned parenting skills complement the faculty’s in-school efforts, and the impact these efforts have on after-school hour parenting may prove to be a key factor in a child’s future academic and career success.

More information about this study will be available later this year with the publications of: Jacobson, S. & Notman, R. (accepted 2018). Leadership in early childhood education (ECE): Implications for parental involvement from New Zealand. International Studies in Educational Administration, 46(1), and, Notman, R. & Jacobson, S. (accepted 2018). School leadership practices in early childhood education (ECE): Three case studies from New Zealand. In Leadership, Culture and School Success in High-Need Schools. E. Murakami, D. Gurr & R. Notman (Eds.) Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.


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