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Applying 4 Key Insights: Learning from EduQuality School Partners in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala

By Maham Khuhro

Click here for the Spanish version!

The EduQuality program offered by Opportunity EduFinance recently completed an impactful first year of collaborating with affordable non-state schools in the Dominican Republic (DR) and Guatemala. As this is EduQuality’s first programming in these countries, the team participated in a Pause & Reflect session to review and share their understanding of school leaders' needs and the program's overall efficacy to date.

Here are four key insights gleaned from our EduQuality team's experience:

1) School leaders are eager to engage brand-new concepts rather than avoid them

A notable achievement in the first year was the enthusiastic engagement with new training concepts among school leaders. Many lacked prior management experience, especially in areas such as child protection, financial management, and school governance. Introducing these essential topics sparked considerable interest and active participation, highlighting the importance of addressing previously overlooked areas of education quality.

The EduQuality teams in the DR and Guatemala both described school leaders actively exhibiting a keen interest in these topics – which many stated were ‘brand-new’ to them. Leaders also shared positive feedback with their Education Specialists that they valued the Pathways to Excellence annual self-assessment process as a vital new tool for tracking their own school progress and identifying strengths and weaknesses. Specifically, many took the next step beyond simple interest, and chose to integrate these new areas of quality as a priority in their school development plans. (See #4 for more)

In the DR, school leaders like Mr. Jhonny Julio Mejia at El Renacimiento School exemplified this enthusiasm. He’s reported that he’s now integrating EduQuality's School Leadership Professional Development (SLPD) and Teacher Mentor Professional Development (TMPD) training from Year 1 to enhance their school budgeting systems and teaching methodologies. This proactive approach underscores the program's impact in empowering schools to strive for educational excellence even within the first year of training.

The EduQuality program has been a resurgence of new expectations for our school because they are giving us new tools to continue advancing towards educational quality." – Mr. Jhonny Julio Mejia, El Renacimiento School, DR

2) School and leadership characteristics appear to influence overall engagement

The nature of the school partners and their leaders significantly influenced their engagement with the EduQuality program to date. Differences emerged between large, moderately resourced, more bureaucratically led schools and smaller, resource-limited, sole-proprietor-led schools. Smaller and less resourced schools have demonstrated more eagerness to engage and also have fewer decision-makers required to approve quality improvement changes.

Also, leaders who embraced the concept of ‘task delegation’ have exhibited better program engagement and more effective implementation of training content.

Cultural norms in the DR often impeded school leaders' ability to delegate responsibilities, as they were expected to oversee all aspects of school operations. However, those leaders who embraced the task delegation concept and successfully delegated tasks reported finding more time to address critical areas needing their immediate attention.

In Guatemala, leaders who embraced delegation and created multi-stakeholder teams as part of their strategic planning process have anecdotally reported experiencing tangible improvements in the areas of school financial and business management, child protection, marketing, and school governance. (School leader sharings will be further validated when leaders complete their second annual school quality self-assessment, comparing any progress over baseline assessment scores)

3) Recruiting and keeping qualified teachers is challenging

School partners report recruiting and retaining qualified teachers is a significant challenge in both countries – which is similar to EduQuality school partners’ experiences across many countries. Non-state school leaders report frequently losing teachers to public schools, which generally offer better salaries and benefits. This makes it difficult to maintain a stable and qualified teaching staff, as well as continuity of teaching for students.

This common issue in both countries underscored the need for EduQuality to support school leaders with training in best practices around teacher recruitment, staff engagement, and offering staff professional development. This includes providing school leaders with ideas around non-financial incentives they can offer teachers that could help retention, even when finances are limited.

4) School leaders are effectively using their School Self-Assessment scores to identify Development Plan priorities

In reviewing Year 1 data, overall schools successfully utilized their first Pathways to Excellence quality self-assessment scores to identify weaknesses and incorporated these areas into their first school development plans (SDPs). Ensuring that schools can pinpoint weaknesses and translate them into actionable plans is crucial for improving educational quality.

In Guatemala, low self-assessment scores and common focus areas for SDPs included financial and business management, child protection, marketing, and school governance. However, there is room for improvement in areas such as special education needs and disabilities (SEND) inclusion and teacher recruitment, which also had low average scores but were less frequently selected as a priority for improvement.

Similarly, school leaders in the DR recognized the importance of SDP sessions, analyzing their needs and prioritizing improvements with input from other teachers, administrative staff, and parents. There was a positive correlation between areas with low self-assessment scores and chosen domains for SDPs, including financial and business management, child protection, SEND inclusion, and teacher recruitment. This illustrates the effectiveness of equipping school leaders with an objective quality diagnostic tool for school improvement decisions.However, some deviations between scores and priorities indicate that school leaders may consider other factors when setting priorities.

Applying Key Insights

The first year of partnering with affordable schools in the Dominican Republic and Guatemala has provided valuable insights into how EduQuality - and potentially similar non-state education-focused organizations - can effectively engage schools in these two countries to support quality improvements.

  • Design training content that introduces new concepts to leaders and teachers. This may require conducting school surveys or focus groups to identify which management and education quality concepts are least familiar. Focusing on unfamiliar or new concepts will likely drive greater engagement.

  • When selecting school partners, consider school and leader characteristics. If resources are limited, prioritize smaller, less-resourced schools and leaders open to delegation, which may enhance training content adoption.

  • Develop a program model that anticipates teacher recruitment and retention issues. A program model that heavily relies on working with the same teachers over multiple years may result in limited success due to teacher retention challenges. Instead, build overall school capacity for self-led professional development, onboarding new teachers, and creating non-financial incentives to improve retention.

  • Equip school leaders with tools and information that empower them to self-assess their own school quality and make decisions on areas for improvement. Non-state school leaders are incentivized to run a successful, sustainable ‘education enterprise’ that offers quality to its customers – i.e. parents and students. Many leaders simply lack information and tools to objectively diagnose “quality”. Rather than a top-down directed approach, program design should consider filling ‘information gaps’ leaders may have and empower leaders to make continuous iterative quality improvements beyond the project lifespan.

By focusing on these early learnings in the DR and Guatemala, Opportunity EduFinance aims to build on the successes of the first year and support school partners as they continue working to offer their learners high-quality education. These insights will also inform any future program expansion in these countries, potentially offering EduQuality to benefit new cohorts of school partners.


Read more about a 3-year quasi-experimental study on Opportunity EduFinance's model here!

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