On May 1, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted a panel discussion titled “Preparing Effective School Leaders: Lessons from Argentina” in which various members of Argentina’s education sector discussed the successes, challenges, and lessons learned from the Varkey Foundation’s Program on Leadership and Innovation in Education (PLIE) in the country. The panel included Javier Mezzamico, Chief of Staff of the Argentine Ministry of Education, Susana Benítez, Minister of Education of Corrientes, Argentina, Isolda Calsina, Minister of Education of Jujuy, Argentina, Analía Berruezo, Minister of Education of Salta, Argentina, Cate Noble, COO of the Varkey Foundation, Agustín Porres, Argentina Country Director at the Varkey Foundation, and Esteban Bullrich, Senator of the Province of Buenos Aires. The discussion was moderated by Ariel Fiszbein, director of the Education Program at the Inter-American Dialogue.
HOY: Conversamos sobre cómo Argentina está preparando #DocentesEfectivos con el Programa de Liderazgo e Innovación Educativa de @VarkeyFdn . Aprende más aquí: https://t.co/4V03FEwJYM pic.twitter.com/GsA1QP4FtW
— PREAL (@PrealEd) May 1, 2018
The Program on Leadership and Innovation in Education (PLIE), developed by the Varkey Foundation in conjunction with both the national and provincial Ministries of Education in Argentina, is a training program that teaches school leaders essential skills to become innovative and effective leaders in their schools. The program consists of six five-day modules in which the participants learn how to manage and improve school reforms, technology in the classroom, curriculum innovation, quality assurance in the teaching and learning processes, teacher professional development, and community relations. The final component of the program requires participants to produce a school improvement project using the tools they’ve learned throughout the training that is meant to be implemented upon the completion of the program. Overall, the program aims to ignite passion and innovation in school leaders. Since its creation in 2016 the program has been implemented in four Argentinian provinces and has trained over 2,000 school leaders.
Every panelist concurred that the program has become extremely popular and is widely recognized as a success. Javier Mezzamico, Chief of Staff of the Argentine Ministry of Education, for example, commented that there is currently very high demand for the program and that the Ministry of Education hopes to make the program available in every Argentine province. However, implementation has not been without challenges. Esteban Bullrich, Senator of the Province of Buenos Aires and former Minister of Education, spoke of the initial resistance to the program, and the difficulty of passing comprehensive and national legislation concerning principal and school leader training qualifications, as a few of the problems that have been faced at the national level. At the provincial level, the Minister of Education of Corrientes, Susana Benítez also commented that many school leaders were hesitant to participate and unsure of what the training would entail. Additionally, she noted that it was administratively difficult to maneuver how to run the schools during the six-week absence of principals and other school leaders. Lastly, Benítez remarked that school leaders, who are accustomed to solving problems individually, had some difficulty working in groups.
Ni complacencia ni impotencia! Los ministros de educación de Argentina demostraron compromiso con los cambios educativos. Gran conversación hoy en @The_Dialogue #DocentesEfectivos pic.twitter.com/aGRvqxOsMT
— Ariel Fiszbein (@arielfiszbein) May 1, 2018
Despite these issues and the fact that a formal evaluation of the program has yet to be conducted, the panelists believe the program’s initial impact has been overwhelmingly positive. The panel agreed that one of PLIE’s main contributions was in creating an atmosphere of enthusiasm and passion about education and the future. Analía Berruezo, the Minister of Education of Salta, for example, commented that she has observed a positive change in the institutional climate in schools, such as greater trust in school leaders, improved communication, and knowledge-sharing between the training participants and the community at large. Javier Mezzamico highlighted another important advantage of PLIE: its multi-partisan support. According to Mezzamico, this support has allowed the program to enjoy continuity and stability. Isolda Calsina, the Minister of Education of Jujuy, praised the innovative, forward-thinking, and action-based nature of the program. She reflected that Argentina needs school leaders that are not only able to lead, but also innovate, and that PLIE addresses this need. Additionally, both the project developers and the participants praised the program’s emphasis on transforming theory and knowledge into action. Lastly, Agustín Porres, Argentina Country Director at the Varkey Foundation, highlighted the development of PLIE at the local-level as one of its greatest strengths. The Ministers of Education echoed this sentiment and praised the provincial specificity of PLIE. While the panelists acknowledged that PLIE is just one tool of many needed to improve schools, they expressed that it is, undoubtedly, one worth having.
Looking toward the future, the main priorities and hopes are to expand the program—both globally and locally—and to create a solid evaluation system for the program. Cate Nobel, COO of the Varkey Foundation, said that the Foundation would like to conduct qualitative evaluations of the program before expanding it globally. As Ariel Fiszbein concluded, at the very least, these discussions, reforms, and programs are signs that something positive is happening around school leadership and that Argentina’s educational sector is breaking with the status quo in a positive and innovative way.