The North-South or Rich-Poor Divide is the socio-economic and political division that exists between the wealthy developed countries, known collectively as “the North,” and the poorer developing countries, known collectively as “the South.”
Brahm Fleisch is Professor of Education Policy and Head of the Division of Educational Leadership, Policy and Skills, The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, who believes that globalization is an opportunity to learn from each other by exploring innovative learning approaches bridging the North-South divide. Fleisch’s work is featured in the new book, Future Directions of Educational Change (edited by Helen Janc Malone, Santiago Rincón-Gallardo, and Kristin Kew; Routledge, 2018), which brings together timely discussions on social justice, professional capital, and systems change from some of the leading global scholars in the field of education.
The Global Search for Education is pleased to welcome Brahm Fleisch.
Brahm, please explain the inequality that exists today between the Global South and the Global North education systems? How has globalization impacted this situation?
There are substantial differences in the kinds of challenges currently faced by education systems in the Global North and South. The pressures in systems in the North is to compete to ensure more and more learners are succeeding in acquiring higher order learning skills as articulated in cross-national tests like PISA, PIRLS and TIMSS. At the level of instructional reform, these systems are finding ways to ensure that teachers are engaged in ‘ambitious teaching’. In contrast, low and lower middle income countries in the Global South, having only recently achieved universal school access, are confronted with the problem that many children are in school but not learning to read, write, and become numerate. This is most clearly illustrated in the recent UNESCO global monitoring report that revealed that at least 250 million young people are failing to learn the basics, including a large proportion attending school.
What do you see as the key strategies/drivers required to bring about positive system change?
The emerging evidence from the Global South, as reflected in the experimental research from India, Kenya, and South Africa, is that combined and structured intervention programs need to focus on early grade learning, particularly in areas of literacy in local languages and second language. These initiatives are geared to change entrenched instructional practices and thereby impact positively on learning outcomes. In some cases, at large-scale and otherwise, system-wide, these interventions impact core elements of instruction — they enhance teachers’ instructional knowledge and skills, upgrade the educational materials available to learners and change the typical learning tasks children do in the classrooms.
What case studies would you point to as examples of positive change?
The chapter describes three sites in the Global South that point to positive change. This includes the work currently spearheaded by Pratham, a large Indian not-for-profit organisation, focused on high-quality, low-cost and replicable interventions; the Kenyan experience in the Primary Mathematics and Reading Initiative (PRIMR) and national roll-out in Tusome in over 22,000 schools; and the Gauteng Primary Language and Mathematics Initiatives (GPLMS) and the Early Grade Reading Study (EGRS) in South Africa. Although each system context is making a unique contribution to the field of educational change (for example, the use of basic assessment instruments and principle of ‘teaching at the right level’ in India), they share in common a commitment to the use of rigorous research methods including experimental studies.
What are your recommendations for the stakeholders involved?
Within the field of educational change, the focus has been on developed school systems in North America and Europe, with growing interest in ‘high performing’ systems in east and South East Asia. The knowledge base in the field of educational change has largely been built on case studies of ‘successful’ districts, provinces or countries. The chapter highlights the emergence of a new knowledge base from the Global South as represented in the experimental research on system-wide improvement of early grade learning. Unlike the methodological orientation in the field in the Global North, the research from the South is increasingly building on the accumulation of findings on robust models using large-scale randomised trials. This experimental research tradition is pointing key stakeholders — international donors/funders, policy makers and system-managers, to what works in resource-constrained contexts with limited professional capital.
Thank you Brahm.