Tag Archives: South Africa

Reflections on the evolution of educational change from South Africa and the Global South: Lead the Change interview with Brahm Fleisch

ENJOY THE BREAK! IEN will be on hiatus until September when we will return with more news and views of schooling and education around the world

This week’s post features a Lead the Change interview with Brahm Fleisch, Professor of Education Policy in the Division of Education Leadership, Policy and Skills at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Fleisch has been a District Director in the Guateng Department of Education and advisor for the national Department of Basic Education in South Africa. His books include: Managing educational change: The state and school reform in South Africa, and The Education Triple Cocktail: System-wide Instructional Reform in South Africa.  His recent work focuses on impact evaluation of large-scale instructional improvement models. 

 This is the fourth in a series of interviews inviting some of the authors of earlier Lead the Change interviews to review their previous responses and consider how they might modify/ adjust/add to what they wrote based on their experiences and insights since publication. The fully formatted interview will be posted on the LtC website of the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.  

Lead the Change: How, and in what ways, has your work evolved since the first publication of this piece? What ideas/points still hold true? Which might you revise?

Brahm Fleisch: Since the publication of our first piece in Lead the Change, our collective knowledge of educational change in the context of the large-scale instructional improvement in the Global South (and South Africa in particular) has been bolstered by seven years of experimental research. This research programme is a response to the challenge currently faced by many resource constrained systems (World Bank, 2019), in which children are enrolled in and attending school, but are, in the majority of cases, also failing to learn to read or to do basic mathematics.  The focus of our research is to identify scalable rigorous and robust change knowledge to address this challenge. The core of what we have learnt is the efficiency of a particular change model, what we have come to call, the “education triple cocktail” (Fleisch, 2018) (a reference to the successful drug treatment for HIV/AIDS).  Drawing on international experience, the model combines (a) prescriptive lesson plans, (b) the provision of quality learning materials and (c) on-site instructional coaching.  Our experimental studies show consistent, positive, and compelling evidence of the model’s effectiveness in multiple settings (Fleisch & Schoer, 2014; Fleisch et al., 2016; Fleisch et al., 2017; Cilliers et al., 2019; Kotze et al., 2019; Fleisch & Dixon, 2019).

We have demonstrated the value of mix-method impact evaluations (MMIE) that include qualitative case studies nested in representative sample cluster randomised control trials. It is our view that MMIE has the potential to contribute to building a more rigorous educational change knowledge base. Examples of the qualitative research include our study (Fleisch & Dixon,2019) that explores lesson plan mechanisms and how they link to the reconstruction of micro and macro teaching time. Alsofrom’s (2019) case studies also show the central role instructional coaches play in addressing teachers’ emotions of change.

At the centre of our contribution is not only findings of ‘what works’ (measured as effect sizes), but an opportunity to understand ‘why’ they work.  For example, case studies show teachers both adopt and adapt lesson plans they are given, and that, contrary to assumptions about de-skilling, most teachers find scripted lesson plans to add to their professional authority and instructional repertoire. The coherence embedded in the education triple cocktail approach helps teachers to shift their thinking about instructional time and space in the classroom. Other case studies point to emotional labour of instructional coaching and thus show the central role coaches play in addressing teachers’ feelings of failure and anxieties about change as well as in building professional accountability.

LtC: What do these shifts suggest to you about the field of educational change more broadly?

BF: There is a growing recognition that the change problems that have animated much of the field of educational change in the past three decades were primarily learning, school, and system problems of the Global North, particularly North America, Europe, and Australia/New Zealand. Both the change problems and potential productive approaches to addressing these problems look very different from the perspective of poorer parts of Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia. Successful systems in East Asia again have a unique set of challenges. Scholars are increasingly recognizing that to speak of a single and coherent field of educational change is difficult.  That is not to say that productive dialogues across geopolitical contexts are not possible. Quite the contrary.

There is a growing recognition that the change problems that have animated much of the field of educational change in the past three decades were primarily learning, school, and system problems of the Global North

That said, I think we need to speak of change knowledge that addresses common contextual realities. In much of the Global South, for example, the challenge is defined by the fact that many of their educational systems have only recently succeeded in achieving near-universal school enrollment. The problem they are currently managing is that the vast majority of those enrolled in the early grades are failing to reach minimum proficiency in literacy and numeracy – what the World Bank has termed “learning poverty”.  

LtC: What most excites you about the direction of the field of educational change is going?

BF: I’m excited to see new scholars working in the field. Very powerful ideas are emerging out of the work of Santiago Rincon Gallardo (2016) and his research on bottom-up tutor networks in Mexico, Benjamin Piper and Stephanie Zuilkowski (2015) and their experimental research on structured pedagogic models in Kenya and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and Rakmini Banerjee et al. (2010) and their work on teaching at the right level in India.   

LtC: What advice might you have for those interested in affecting change and improvement?

BF: For me, the most exciting frontier of research on educational change is in the so-called Global South, and particularly in resource-constrained systems. Not only are the change challenges huge and pressing, but I find many policymakers are eager to dialogue around research. It is also a space that allows us to really challenge many taken-for-granted assumptions about system-wide change. Building change knowledge anywhere is difficult and is made that much more challenging in settings with very little financial resources or established capacity to implement effectively.   

The Global South is a space that allows us to really challenge many taken-for-granted assumptions about system-wide change

LtC: What are the future research directions that should be addressed in the field of educational change?

BF: Understanding the levers of change and how they work in resource constrained contexts, in places where government ministries and departments, district staff, school leaders and ordinary teachers lack essential education infrastructure and capacity, should be a future research thrust for scholars working in the field of educational change.  It is critical that, as we move forward, we see this knowledge building as a cumulative process with scholars working together adding empirical findings, engaging with case study insights, and taking on substantive critiques. If we work in silos, if we neglect large-scale quantitative research on effects, if we fail to engage with internal and external critics, progress is likely to be slow. 

References

Alsofrom, K (2019) How and why does coaching work to improve teaching practices in the EGRS2? An examination of causal mechanisms. Paper Presented at the UKFIET meeting, Oxford University.

Banerjee, A. V., Banerji, R., Duflo, E., Glennerster, R., & Khemani, S. (2010). Pitfalls of participatory programs: Evidence from a randomized evaluation in education in India. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy2(1), 1-30.

Cilliers, J., Fleisch, B., Prinsloo, C., & Taylor, S. (2019). How to improve teaching practice? An experimental comparison of centralized training and in-classroom coaching. Journal of Human Resources, 0618-9538R1.

Fleisch, B. (2018). The education triple cocktail: System-wide instructional reform in South Africa. UCT Press/Juta and Company (Pty) Ltd.

Fleisch, B., & Dixon, K. (2019). Identifying mechanisms of change in the Early Grade Reading Study in South Africa. South African Journal of Education39(3).

Fleisch, B., & Schöer, V. (2014). Large-scale instructional reform in the Global South: insights from the mid-point evaluation of the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics Strategy. South African Journal of Education34(3).

Fleisch, B., Schöer, V., Roberts, G., & Thornton, A. (2016). System-wide improvement of early-grade mathematics: New evidence from the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics Strategy. International Journal of Educational Development49, 157-174.

Fleisch, B., Taylor, S., Schöer, V., & Mabogoane, T. (2017). Failing to catch up in reading in the middle years: The findings of the impact evaluation of the Reading Catch-Up Programme in South Africa. International Journal of Educational Development53, 36-47.

Kotze, J., Fleisch, B., & Taylor, S. (2019). Alternative forms of early grade instructional coaching: Emerging evidence from field experiments in South Africa. International Journal of Educational Development66, 203-213.

Piper, B., & Zuilkowski, S. S. (2015). Teacher coaching in Kenya: Examining instructional support in public and nonformal schools. Teaching and Teacher Education47, 173-183.

Rincón-Gallardo, S. (2016). Large scale pedagogical transformation as widespread cultural change in Mexican public schools. Journal of Educational Change17(4), 411-436.

World Bank (2019) Ending Learning Poverty https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/immersive-story/2019/11/06/a-learning-target-for-a-learning-revolution

Curriculum and assessment in African countries

This week, we conducted a scan of education news published in the past month from countries in Africa. These articles highlight efforts to increase access and quality of education through the implementation of national curricula and assessments and through initiatives focused on teacher recruitment, salaries, and training.

South Sudan recently launched its first national curriculum. Gurtong.net quoted Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF Country Representative, as saying…

“For now the curriculum is complete, textbooks must be designed and published, teachers need to be trained to implement this curriculum, and school managers, inspectors and supervisors require training to provide the required management and oversight….”

Reports from South Africa (recently ranked “almost dead last in math and science” on this year’s World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness report, as News24 noted) show that even with curriculum and assessments in place, educators need to see their worth in order for them to be useful for instruction. The Daily Maverick recently reported that both the teachers’ union and the Department of Basic Education agree that the current national assessments are not effective, and some teachers’ unions have already promised to “opt-out” of administering the current assessments.

Tensions between teachers and the national government in Kenya also reflect something of a “Catch-22.” In a recent World Bank report, concern was expressed that the quality of education in the country was alarmingly inadequate. On the one hand, many critics of the government, including many teachers, argue that the reasons include the government’s failure to comply with a court order to increase teacher salaries by 50-60%. In response, teachers are engaged in a formal, long-term strike to protest inadequate salary, which they would like to see rise to the levels of other professions. On the other hand, supporters of the government suggest that the teacher strikes are contributing to the problems because they result in irregular access to classrooms for most students. In a stalemate, the Education Ministry ordered schools to close as of September 21st.

According to All Africa, Cameroon’s Education Ministry is taking steps to try to “professionalize” teaching by bringing in Dutch consultants to help refine teacher training, as well as curriculum. According to Roeland Monasch, the CEO of the Dutch NGO Aflatoun, the solution is simple: “He assured that once teachers are well trained, students will do well in class.”

Deirdre Faughey

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Scan of Ed News: Quality and Access

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Recent news reports reveal the ways in which countries all over the world are taking steps to make quality P-12 education more accessible for students.

In Chinathe government is closing privately operated schools and will allow the children of migrant workers to attend public schools. In addition to paying tuition fees for vocational students in southern rural areas, the Chinese government is also looking for ways to increase high school enrollment in areas such as the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. In contrast, the government has announced that, in their effort to increase the quality of tertiary institutions, postgraduate education will no longer be free. As noted in The New York Times, the cost of education is felt sharply by those in rural areas, where families are suffering from “high education costs coincid[ing] with slower growth of the Chinese economy and surging unemployment among recent college graduates.”   Meanwhile, state universities in Indonesia will receive government funding to eliminate initial fees for new students and lower tuition rates overall.

In addition to the issue of access to education, many countries are reporting on efforts to improve the quality of education, resulting in conflicts between government officials, union leadership, and teachers. In Denmark, teachers are pushing back against the government’s reform measures, which include increasing the number of hours teachers spend in the classroom. In France, schools have had to shut their doors due to a teacher strike in protest of President Hollande’s reform agenda, which aims to increase classroom time. Guatemalan teachers and students have also been protesting the country’s education reform goals, which include university-level training for all teachers, a measure many believe will have a negative impact on education in rural areas. South Africa has long provided rural teachers with incentive stipends; however, teachers are in the midst of planning a strike to protest the government’s recent decision to terminate the allowances.