School Leader Preparation and Development in the Global South: A Call for the Inclusion of Private Schools

There continues to be national and international calls for reforming education systems – yet missing from much of the discussion and literature is the important role played by school leaders.  

Library at AidChild Leadership Institute (ALI) Uganda, Interns-in-Training

Some national and international reports make passing references to the importance of supporting and developing school leaders; however, the important roles they play have only recently begun to receive any significant attention.  And, even when school leadership is mentioned in these reports, the discussion focuses on public school leaders; yet across the world in many low and middle-income countries (LICs and MICs),[i]the numbers of private schools are growing exponentially.

In the vast majority of LICs and MICs a teaching credential and teaching experience are the only requirements for school administrators.  And in most countries those requirements are only required for public school leaders; private school leaders may or may not be included in the requirements.  This is not surprising since in most US states, private school leaders are rarely required to hold a state administrative license –  required for public school leaders.  However, there is a growing realization in many nations in the world that school leadership positions require educators with specific preparation and/or professional development. 

In a blog on this website (April 2018),  Bruce Barnett asserted that the requirements to hold formal positions as school leaders can be thought of on a continuum  – from tightly to loosely regulated.  As an example, the US has a tightly regulated system, while countries such as New Zealand and Sweden have moderately regulated systemswhere trainings are offered but not required (Lumby, Crow, & Pashiardis, 2008).  As I work in several nations (e.g., Burkina, Liberia, Colombia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic) I’ve observed that most countries have loosely regulated systems in which preparation programs for aspiring school leaders are rare or non-existent and professional development offerings are infrequent. 

At the same time, in many LICs and MICs, for a variety of reasons (e.g., corruption, low tax rolls), governments are unable to provide the number of public schools needed to serve their populations.  Following the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals and now the Sustainable Development Goals, many countries have been unable to keep up with the demand for schooling; thus, in the last twenty-years,  private schools  have grow exponentially (Tooley, 2010; Cordeiro & Brion, 2018).  While in most Western countries private schools comprise less than 10% of all schools (Beadie & Tolley, 2002; Benveniste, Carnoy & Rothstein, 2013),  in some LICs and MICs at 20-25% of the schools nationwide are private,  and range from 40-90% in the largest cities (CapPlus 2017; 2018).

We are currently working on a paper that explores the following questions: 

  • What leadership preparation and/or professional development, if any, is currently required for school leaders in low and middle-income countries?  
  • What changes, if any, are planned? 
  • Are private schools included in country requirements?  

Our data collection is taking three forms: 

First, we (Cordeiro & Brion) are reviewing the existing literature in English on the preparation and professional development of school leaders in LICs and MICs (e.g., Moorosi & Bush, 2019; key reports by international and national organizations and commissions.). Additionally, because most of the research journals including topics related to school leadership development are in English, we are reviewing the school leadership preparation literature written in Spanish, Portuguese and French.  In recent years a growing body of research from Spanish speaking countries is making its way into English language journals.  However, reference to Francophone and Lusophone research literature on school leadership is still mostly missing from English language journals. 

Secondly, using the Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) database created by the World Bank, we are examining educational requirements for teachers and school leaders. SABER produces comparative data and knowledge about education system policies and institutions.  

Finally, as I write this blog, I’m interviewing education ministry officials from several countries in an attempt to better understand current and planned initiatives related to supporting school leaders and whether private schools are included in the conversations and policies.

So far, we have confirmed that the vast majority of low and middle-income nations have loosely-regulated systems for school leaders.  However, a few countries  (e.g., Peru) are moving to moderately regulated systems. With regard to private schools, five of seven education ministry officials interviewed thus far are unaware of the numbers of private schools and/or deny that they comprise a significant number of schools in their nations; yet, reports from outside organizations tell a different story.  Thus, private school leaders are rarely included in the discussion around improving trainings for preparation and/or professional development.  We are also finding that a  growing number of countries have developed standards for school leaders (e.g., Rwanda).   In a future blog we’ll share the findings of our final paper.   

Working with a school leader in Ghana

If, as Leithwood, Seashore, Anderson and Wahlstrom (2004) suggest, “improving leadership is key to the successful implementation of large-scale reform” (p.5), then it would behoove policymakers in these nations, UN agencies, and researchers to ensure that school leaders– representing public and private schools—are included in the discussion.  And, as countries develop and improve their educator preparation programs, the fact that many teachers will one day hold formal positions as school administrators, must be considered.  Both pre-service programs for future school leaders and professional development opportunities are crucial to improving the learning outcomes of educational systems. 

Meet Paula Cordeiro:


Barnett, B.  (April 11, 2018). Principal Preparation and Development: Highly Regulated or          Loosely Structured?

Beadie, N., & Tolley, K. (2002). (Eds.) Chartered Schools:  Two Hundred Years of Independent   Academies in the United States, 1727-1925. Routledge.

Benveniste, L.  Carnoy, M., & Rothstein, R.  2013 All Else Equal. New York: Routledge.

CapPlus (2017). Banking on EducationLow Cost Private Schools Demand for Finance.Retrieved June 8, 2019

CapPlus (2018).  Retrieved June 8, 2019 Banking on Education:  Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.    

Cordeiro, P.A., & Brion, C. (2018). Women School Leaders: Entrepreneurs in Low Fee Private     Schools in Three West African Nations. Frontiers: Leadership in Education.

Lumby, J., Crow, G., & Pashiardis, P. (2008). International Handbook on the Preparation and Development of School Leaders. New York: Routledge.

Moorosi, P., & Bush, T. (2019). (Eds.)  Preparation and development of school leaders in            Africa. Bloombsury Academic.

Tooley, J., Dixon, P., Shamsan, Y., & Schagen, I.  (2010). The relative quality and cost-    effectiveness of private and public schools for low-income families:  A case study in a     developing country. In School Effectiveness and School Improvement. 21(2), 117-14.

Leithwood, K., Seashore, K.  Anderson, S. & Wahlstrom, K. (2004).  Review of Research: How    Leadership Influences Student Learning.  University of Minnesota, Center for Applied          Research and Educational Improvement.

[i]The World Bank divides the world’s economies into four income groups: high, upper-middle, lower-middle, and low. The income classification is based on a measure of national income per person.  As of 1 July 2018, low-income economies are defined as those with a GNI per capita of $995 or less in 2017; lower middle-income economies are those with a GNI per capita between $996 and $3,895; upper middle-income economies are those between $3,896 and $12,055; high-income economies are those with a GNI per capita of $12,055 or more.  There are 31 Low-Income Countries and 51 Lower Middle-Income Countries.

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