5 ways leadership development can improve global education

By Sophie Edwards 18 October 2016

Mary Chaona teaches a grade 3 class at the Muzu primary school in Malawi. Photo by: Govati Nyirenda / Global Partnership for Education / CC BY-NC-ND

Recent UNESCO research estimates that 69 million new teachers will be needed to meet the ambitious sustainable development agenda. Schools in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia are suffering most from the teacher shortage, needing 14.6 million new staff members, according to the report published to coincide with World Teachers’ Day on Oct. 5.

However, recruiting new teachers is only part of the battle; achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring inclusive and quality education will require a wider set of innovations and reforms that go beyond simply hiring more teaching staff.  

That was the message from global education experts convened during the World Bank annual meetings to discuss how leadership development could improve global education.

Here are five key takeaways from the discussion.

1.  Attracting talent is key, but reform the system first.

Sishir Khanal, CEO of Teach for Nepal, said many education reform projects in Nepal have been ineffectual due to a fundamental misunderstanding of the current realities within the country.  

“A lot of our reform efforts are focused on retraining, but that is based on the notion that there is willingness and capacity within existing people to lead the reform,” he said.  

According to Khanal, donors need to ask bigger questions: “Not how to attract new, high-caliber individuals to the education system, but how can we reform the system?”

2.  Build networks of local ‘learning champions.’

The best education results were seen when efforts were lead by local “learning champions,” according to Rebecca Winthrop, a senior education fellow at the Brookings Institution. These were not necessarily senior officials or ministers of education, but people sitting in government who had been “given the space to do something different,” she said.  

When asked what they needed in order to support their work, Winthrop said these “champions” had requested a means of connecting and sharing information with other education leaders.  Brookings is now researching the scope and design of such a network, designed to connect  education leaders of different levels and from different countries to connect, share information and best practices, and potentially collaborate.

3. Invest in research and development.

The education sector should take its lead from the business sector when it comes to compiling research about the impacts of school leadership on children’s performance, and the most effective strategies for enabling leadership and management development among education staff, according to Luis Benveniste, a World Bank education specialist.  

“It makes sense that better leadership matters [to outcomes] but what we don’t really understand are the vectors by which good leadership can bring about better student outcomes,” he said.  

Benveniste called for public organizations, including the World Bank, to invest more in robust research which pays “careful attention” to the “types of behavioral change we want to see to bring about systemic change.”

4. Rethink human resources.

The traditional education career pathway in a lot of developing countries is for teachers to be promoted into principals and principals into district supervisors.  

This “does not serve the institutions or children,” according to Benveniste, since candidates do not get the “necessary leadership and management training preparation to perform their duties” in the different roles.

He suggests education establishments provide specific pre- and in-service training programs tailored to each role, as well as specialized recruitment efforts for management positions, as possible “low hanging fruit” interventions.

5. Involve other stakeholders.

“It is not enough to have a very ambitious, supportive government, really society needs to be involved,” according to Emiliana Vegas, chief of the education division at the Inter-American Development Bank.

Vegas said that while Latin America has good education access rates, the learning outcomes are “terrible.” She thinks parents, who currently “don’t see education as a top priority” need to get more involved in the education debate and sees a role for civil society to encourage and inform them.

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About the author

Edwards sopie
Sophie Edwards

Sophie Edwards is a reporter for Devex based out of Washington D.C. and London where she covers global development news, careers and lifestyle issues. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.


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