July 25, 2023
Teopista Birungi Mayanja

We welcome our guest author Teopista Birungi Mayanja, former Education Commissioner, sharing her insights on transforming education leadership in Africa.

The Africa Evidence Forum on Foundational Learning earlier this year brought together academics and researchers from six sub-Sahara Africa (SSA) countries—Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Malawi—to share and discuss the body of evidence about “what works” to strengthen and transform foundational learning. 

The Education Commission led a session on transforming education leadership for improved learning outcomes where I spoke to educational leadership from a system point of view and emphasized the urgency of addressing leadership in education. Effective school leadership with a focus on learning can foster positive learning conditions, motivate and support teachers to apply strong pedagogical practices, and engage the wider community to support students. Schools with competent leaders have less student absenteeism, and students have more enjoyable instructional time and better learning outcomes.

The world is at an inflection point—there is a crisis in teaching and learning, limited resources for education (both human and material), severe inequalities, climate change, the changing nature of work, increasing conflict, and authoritarianism together with the urgency of COVID recovery. The education transformation agenda is needed more than ever to respond to these challenges, and it requires a transformation in leadership as well.

What is needed for transforming education leadership?

During the session, presenters and participants aimed to answer the following questions:

  • What are the key dimensions of school leadership for improving learning outcomes?
  • What are the challenges faced by and opportunities for school leaders in implementing national curriculum at school level?
  • Is there evidence to link educational leadership to quality learning outcomes?
  • How comprehensive is our promotion of evidence-informed leadership, management, and administration practices across Africa?

The session was chaired by Education Workforce Initiative Country Lead Sam Awuku, an eloquent, inspirational teacher and leader of our time.  He facilitated a discussion between presenters and participants to illuminate key features for transforming education leadership. A few threads came through strongly in the discussion, including:

  • Vision and purpose: Leaders in education need to review and rethink the purpose of education in relation to the moment that we are in and ensure that it tackles inequality, builds resilience for a changing world, and positions all components of an education system to coherently contribute to this shared goal.  
  • Pedagogical and transformational leadership:  Pedagogical leadership involves the innovations and adaptations to teaching and learning for improved learning outcomes (curriculum, the assessment, education technologies, etc.), while transformational leadership positions and aligns all components of the education system to support the pedagogical core and purpose.
  • Community participation and ownership: Leaders should deeply engage communities of educators, families, students to ensure everyone feels some ownership over learning outcomes.
  • Social justice, equity, and inclusion: Leaders must attend to the needs of the most disadvantaged in the community to ensure no one is left behind and everyone grow their full potential.
  • Resource mobilization and utilization: Leaders should be able to prioritize and allocate limited resources more effectively and efficiently.
  • Rethinking the education workforce: Countries must pay sufficient attention to the development and management of the education workforce, including school leadership and peer support mechanisms, as well as define the roles of leaders at all levels in the system—school, district, regional, and national.
  • Cultural adaptation and growth: Leaders must continuously recognize and respond to changing societal and cultural norms.

What are the challenges to transforming education leadership?

Session participants recognized that there are serious challenges to transforming leadership in education. These are especially prominent at the school level.  

Leading a school is increasingly more challenging and complicated as school leaders are expected to take on the roles of both chief executives and professional heads, that is, administrators, managers, public relations officers, pedagogical advisers, classroom teachers, and more. For one, the school leader’s role is demanding, and there is a lack of incentives for teachers to take on these responsibilities. Even for those who do want to progress in their career, there are often no established qualifications or formalized policy guidance on the requirements to become a principal or head teacher. I gave an example of when I was promoted to school principal due to my popularity in school sports and music. Once school leaders take up their post, they often become full-time managers, focusing their time on administrative duties rather than pedagogical leadership and support for teachers and students.

At the system level, there is a lack of foundational and reliable data on school leadership, such as qualifications or turnover. This data is needed to inform the systematic and comprehensive education workforce policies that are required to design and guide education transformation.

Advocating for education leadership

Now is the time for advancing education leadership transformation in Africa.  Recent regional agendas—including the Political Agenda on Education in Africa and the African Union’s review of the Education Agenda of the “Africa we want”—indicate a political readiness to get serious about leadership in education.

Although there is evidence to link educational leadership to quality learning outcomes, promotion of evidence-informed leadership and management across Africa is not comprehensive enough. We must commit to taking advantage of all opportunities to advocate for leadership.

Please follow the Education Commission’s work on leadership as it transitions to Education Development Center (EDC).

 Teopista Birungi Mayanja is a former commissioner of the Education Commission and the chair of the board of the Uganda National Teachers’ Union.
Elementary and Secondary Education
Capacity Building for Individuals, Organizations, and Systems

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