Supporting Effective Schools in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Supporting Effective Schools in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

In the past few decades, access to schooling has greatly increased in low- and middle-income countries around the world. This is in large part due to a pursuit of the (MDGs) to achieve universal primary education for all children by 2015. At the same time, research on effective schools and school interventions has advanced in methodological rigor and applied relevance. This parallel growth in the prevalence of schools and research on schooling illustrates a clear need—and provides a unique opportunity—to apply emerging evidence to support the effectiveness of schools. Although most scholarship focuses on U.S. schools and school children, we believe the underlying targets and processes identified in this research can be adapted and applied to supporting schools in low- and middle-income countries. In this post we provide a framework and set of recommendations for strengthening schools in low and middle-income countries.

What to Target?
We recommend practices and policies to strengthen schools to focus on the “common elements” of promising practices that promote key student outcomes, such as academic achievement, citizenship competencies, and health. We find the effective schools to have:

  • Safe and organized school environment
  • Positive and productive relationships
  • High expectations for academic success
  • Engaging and responsive teaching

Where and How to Target?
Focusing policy and practice on the common elements of effective schools can be facilitated by: (1) improving school-wide organizational structures and processes; and (2) enhancing classroom practices and interactions.

First, positive school organizational culture and climate can be achieved by:

  • Building smaller schools and strong relationships with communities
  • Promoting teamwork, communication, and support among adults (e.g., teacher professional learning communities)
  • Improving student relationships across school (e.g., student peer mentoring)

And effective classroom practices and interactions can be promoted by:

  • Implementing curricula that promote both academic and social-emotional learning
  • Training teachers on effective strategies that teachers can use to build supportive classrooms and manage classroom behaviors and student outcomes
  • Activating peer resources in the classroom toward safe and productive environments and motivated and engaged students

Recommendations for Schools?
To maximize collaborative and sustainable models for installing efficient and effective interventions in schools:

  • Identify and utilize internal delivery agents and support systems to increase feasibility, relevance, and sustainability for the context of the school (e.g., opinion leader in teacher professional communities, coaching from retired local teachers)
  • Create sustainable and continuous improvement processes with a regular, deep, and contextualized sequence of assessment and action toward improving target outcomes  embedded in school organizational structures and routines
  • Work collaboratively with stakeholders both internal to the local school community (e.g., educators, parent advocates, community leaders) and external to it (e.g., university researchers, policy professionals) to enhance the intervention development, implementation, and evaluation

As these recommendations are primarily based on U.S. research, the specific actions and strategies should be informed and modified by the culturally-situated knowledge about how to enhance schools toward positive outcomes for more young people around the world. Careful application of the common elements (on the one hand) and processes underlying promising practices (on the other) can help to build concrete actions to improve the quality of education in schools in low- and middle income countries and help children to gain the skills, knowledge, and experiences that enable them to be productive and educated global citizens.


Dr. Ha Yeon Kim is Associate Director for Research, Conflict-Affected Countries, for Global TIES for Children