Kenneth Russell is an Education Specialist with UNICEF, currently focusing on education reforms in Zimbabwe. Previously, he worked in Sri Lanka and in Jamaica, where he studied community participation in schools. He holds an Ed.M. in International Education Policy and Ed.D. from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.
In this interview, part of the Lead the Change Series of the American Educational Research Association Educational Change Special Interest Group, Russell shares his perspective on the vital role of public education in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially as governments are strapped for resources and for-profit and non-governmental organizations appear to offer more successful services in the short-term. While acknowledging the importance of cross-sector partnerships, he emphasizes the need to support sustainable, systemic changes that respond to particular African cultural and political contexts. Russell argues priorities should be on comprehensive reform, such as curriculum and teacher preparation, and meaningfully including youth in the process of educational change. As he puts it, reflecting on the AERA 2017 theme of “Dreams, Possibilities, and the Necessity of Public Education”:
The dream, which we should all share, is for public education systems to develop robust curricula and provide the investments that allow all children to complete a high quality basic education. This education should help young people develop the range of skills and competencies required for 21st century citizenship. This requires strong, and in some cases, non-traditional partnerships within a robust public education framework. This education framework should allow for flexibility in how education is offered and who provides educational services; it should be creative and innovative in terms of how content is developed and delivered; it should be robust in regulation, supervision, and support for service providers, teachers and students, and; it should be unflinching in the drive to ensure the most marginalized get priority access to education services.
This Lead the Change interview appears as part of a series that features experts from around the globe, highlights promising research and practice, and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change. Recently Lead the Change has also interviewed Nic Spaull, himself based in South Africa.