Overcoming the Barriers to Educational Change in the Arab Context: Examining Pathways to Building Systemic Capacity for Sustainable School-Based Improvement

Overcoming the Barriers to Educational Change in the Arab Context: Examining Pathways to Building Systemic Capacity for Sustainable School-Based Improvement by Rima Karami-Akkary and Coby Vincent Meyers, 2020


Inducing educational change in the Arab region seldom influences school organization or classroom instruction (Bashshur, 2005; Karami-Akkary, 2014; Shuayb, M., 2018). Despite growing awareness about the importance of sustainable school improvement, translating this awareness into policies and practice is still a major challenge worldwide (Dinham & Crowther, 2011). Within the Arab context traditionally, building school capacity for continuous improvement is restricted to the individuals involved in implementing change with little consideration of systemic conditions. We consider school- and district-level factors in an all-girls Lebanese public school attempting to advance organizational improvement.

Perspectives/ Conceptual Background

The study adopts a conceptual framework advanced by Dimmock and Walker (2000) that leverages a cross-cultural approach where the school is the unit of analysis. Their model advances the examination of organizational functionality through a multi-layered model of culture: (1) organizational; (2) national/societal; and (3) regional/local.


This study follows a qualitative case study design that adopts the constructivist grounded theory methodology for collecting and analyzing data (Charmaz, 2015). It aims at understanding in depth the phenomena in “its real life context” (Yin, 2003, p.13). Generating codes happens through microanalysis with comparisons made at the level of incident.

Data Sources

The selected case is a high-achieving school that self-selected to participate in the TAMAM project (www.tamamproject.com) for the past four years out of interest in school-based improvement. The school is a K-9 all girls school with 1000 students and 76 teachers. Interviews with teachers, coordinators, school principal, district level officer, and ministry level inspector were conducted from September 2018 to April 2019, and relevant document data from 2015 to present were also examined. 


The school members’ views of school improvement are constrained. Teachers appear limited to view improvement as triggered by different members of the system in other positions. The principal is an eager learner to earn the label of a change agent and who is willing to take risks and adopt innovations yet very much “content” with the confines of her role within the system. At the district level, system leaders seem to be absorbed in performing clerical work and have very limited pedagogical expertise or strategic vision for improvement. 

Educational Importance

Bain, Walker, and Chan (2011) argued that there is a need for explaining how “organizational support for capacity building for sustained change is theorized, developed and applied” (p. 703); and how to translate research findings on capacity building to practical, successful actions that schools could follow. This study underscores gaps in how practitioners conceptualize school improvement that result in limited understanding about how to lead change and consider possible policy change.

Connection to Conference Subtheme

This study addresses “the role of policy makers, researchers and practitioners in promoting educational change” conference sub-theme. While starting from the premises derived from best practices in the international literature, it offers an understanding of reality that challenges and inform dominant conceptions and raise awareness of the importance of including the voices and perceptions of practitioners when trying to devise systemic solutions.