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: https://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/compare/Dominican-Republic/Haiti/Education/table

meet Paula A. Cordeiro

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Heather Lattimer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindergarten classroom in the Dominican Republic.
Printed with permission.

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

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

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

Classroom and School Communication:  Insights from the Profession     Maureen Robinson

Wishing everyone a Happy 2019!

Paula

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Educate Girls Globally (EGG)

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

The Challenges of Creating Standardized Assessment Measures

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

 

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

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

Learning Disability?  English Language Acquisition?

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

Meet Maya Kalyanpur

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Teachers’ Perspectives on Inclusive Education in India

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Maya Kalyanpur

References

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

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

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

A Research Project That Had To Be Done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other “had-to’s”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Refugees

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

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

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

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

Meet Ira Bogotch

Living and Working in Education Along La Frontera

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

Photo MLG

 

First, tell us a little about yourself.

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

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

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Mexico City’s UNAM campus

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

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

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Malú moves from Hollywood to La Frontera

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

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

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

Bridge connecting the US and Mexico

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

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

What have been a few milestones in your career?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet María Luisa González

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Collaboration

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

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

My Partners in Curriculum Development

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

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

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

https://elprograms.org/specialist/

Meet Professor Jane Theifels

Education for the future of Jordan

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Trevor Male

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few ideas to consider:

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

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

Front Page Africa October 17, 2018

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

Meet Paula A. Cordeiro