Building Leadership for Teachers in the Developing World

Credit: UNICEF
  • Opinion by Simone Galimberti (kathmandu, nepal)
  • Inter Press Service

The upcoming Transforming Education Summit in New York --- September 16-19 -- has the ambitious task to re-draw the traditional boundaries of learning, helping imagine how children of today can truly become equipped with the best tools to overcome the increasing challenges faced by the world.

It is clear that teachers in developing nations are the key agents for enabling such personal journey of growth and transformation and yet teachers are too often neglected and overlooked.

The issues the planet is facing-- from income inequalities to climate change to geopolitical tensions-- are all interlinked to each other.

An enhanced learning experience alone especially in the public schools around the developing world is a must, but it is something that has been pursued at best with very mixed results for decades.

Yet, the gap between private education and public school system in many emerging countries is not closing but rather getting bigger and bigger. At the same time, achieving better educational outcomes must be accompanied by a strong drive to embed a sense of civic engagement among the students.

Civic engagement is a sensitive issue that can be misinterpreted and used for the wrong purposes, including in the cases when politics enter in the fold by inculcating the mind of students with elements of hyper nationalism and chauvinism.

Instead of being a tool to allow students to step up for their communities, a tool that acts as civic glue, we can get the opposite results, with the formation of indoctrinated cadres with a closed mindset rather than an open one.

Teachers should be the ones who are able to bring in the tools that allow a student to grow with a positive desire to do better at a personal level but also for the enhancement of the society, creating the conditions for a quality learning that is not self-centered but rather aimed at the public good.

Therefore, all stakeholders involved in the educational sector have to reckon on how it will be possible to raise the profile of local teachers, creating the conditions for them to act as true agents of change.

Let’s not forget that we are talking about individuals who often have no other options in life than starting a teaching career and often do not have neither the qualifications nor enthusiasm nor passion for the job.

It is an enormous challenge for any developing nation, a challenge that it is not extremely costly but also difficult to design especially in terms of career development of the teachers.

If it is simply unrealistic to raise the bar in terms of mandating higher education specialization for all teachers in public schools while at the same time ensuring the inclusion of more strident accountability measures for them.

It is certainly positive that an exponential increase of funding for public education is going to be of the major topics to be discussed at Transforming Education Summit but funding alone won’t suffice.

We need to focus at micro level and imagine new pathways for those public teachers who are really passionate about their jobs, to obtain the indispensable tools they need to step up in their jobs, and help their students to “holistically” and unselfishly succeed at life.

For the many who are hanging around without love nor a commitment for their job, it is inevitable that governments must muster the courage and the resources for them to slowly transition out of their profession, a proposition, that, considering the already high level of unemployment plaguing most of the developing countries, is neither easy nor “politically” convenient.

Yet, if we truly want to rethink the way education work for the most vulnerable children, we really need to sketch out new paths for making teaching one of the most attractive professions in the developing world.

Programs like Teach for America and its affiliates around the world are, with no doubt, doing a great deal of good job by trying to include young graduated recruits in the profession for two years but though admirable, it is not enough.

We need to truly create an enabling framework for young graduates to embrace teaching for the long term, allowing them to make a precise choice in picking a career as a teacher.

That’s why the upcoming Summit should dedicate enough energies to think big about the teaching profession from a perspective of the South where teaching is not held in high esteem.

Why not then provide the resources, especially technical, to create national and local academies for building the teaching profession of tomorrow?

Sooner rather than later, it is going to be indispensable to set higher qualifications in order to teach at school but at the same time, governments could start changing the landscape of the teaching profession by setting up Leadership Academies for the Teaching Profession.

Imagine centers for learning, where the best teachers and the best principals from all public schools, can enhance their skills and knowledge throughout a holistic pathway of professional and personal growth.

Such academies could offer both full time intensive but also executive mode type of courses with the best experts working as faculties.

In the USA, the late billionaire Eli Broad committed a tremendous amount of resources in equipping schools’ executives, including principles through cutting edge capacity building trainings. His philanthropic work also made it possible the creation of The Broad Center at Yale School of Management, a center Transformative leadership for public education.

This is the vision required to transform the education in the still developing and emerging world. It is not just about the commitment of the international community to fund public schools through multiyear plans.

What is required is tailored made plans to transform the teaching profession locally.

It is paramount we focus on leadership rather than just simply career development of the teachers. Leadership, after all, is what is required, to bring the quality of education to another level while promoting the virtues of civic engagement.

The upcoming Summit should devote tangible time for a conversation on how we can transform the teaching profession.

An inclusive quality education capable of building the skills for the 21st century can be realized only if the international community and developing nations work together to innovate in the field of educational leadership.

They need to find new ways to award the best local teachers and while helping those in the profession but disengaged and disinterested to find their own vocation.

Let’s not forget that truly transforming education in the developing world requires big and bold national plans but also a unique focus at micro level, working alongside those teachers who believe in their professions.

Finding novel ways to support their work can be the best legacy of the Transforming Education Summit.

Simone Galimberti is Co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not-for-profit NGO in Nepal. He writes on volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people's lives.

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