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22 Apr 2014

From Teaching and Learning to Teachers and Students: The Real Story of Educational Cultures and Contexts By NORRAG


teachersThe last few years with their global focus on education post-2015 and review of Education for All (EFA) have emphasized the failure of LEARNING. Despite all the discussion of Learning Goals, and of Learning for All, the real storyline was that students were not learning, or not learning enough. There has, of course, been the other side of the learning story which is about PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) and success in learning – at least for some.This has then connected to QUALITY, another of the large themes of the post-2015 debates. It too, like learning, has been as much about the absence of quality, or about the misplaced focus on access rather than quality in respect of the Millennium Development Goals.

But what about the situation in ordinary schools and training institutions? The implication of the term ‘learning crisis’ suggests there may be a crisis in teaching. But what is the reality?

But teachers are surely not responsible for the fact that there are said to be some 774 million people who are still illiterate in the world. Are teachers connected in any way to the iconic figures of 57 million out of school children in 2011, or the 250 million 15- to 24-year olds who lack foundation skills despite half of them having spent four years or more in school? Equally, are teachers connected to the growth of what are called ‘low cost private schools’, or to the massive presence in many countries of fee-paying ‘shadow education’ after regular day school and at weekends? Or are they related to the claim that 1.6 million teachers are said to be needed to achieve universal primary education? These issues need to be interrogated.

In the Secretary General’s Post-2015 High Level Panel (HLP) Report, teachers get just two sentences out of the two pages discussing the HLP’s illustrative education goal: ‘Teachers are often early mentors who inspire children to advance. The quality of education in all countries depends on having a sufficient number of motivated teachers, well trained and possessing strong subject-area knowledge’. In March 2013, the Global Thematic Consultation on Education Post-2015 underlined that ‘In particular, a notable gap in current educational goals is the lack of focus on teachers, as the key agents in improving the quality of education’.

Fortunately, the Global Monitoring Report (GMR) 2013/4 has its principal focus on Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality Education for All. It has done two things: first, it argues for the absolutely crucial role of ‘Education for Development Post-2015’, showing how education contributes to a whole range of development outcomes. Second, the report looks at how ‘quality teachers’ need to be at the centre of ‘teaching and learning for maximum impact’. In this part, the evidence linking quality teachers and quality learning is reviewed, along with issues on teacher supply and deployment. There is a review of innovative curriculum and assessment reforms that depend centrally on teachers. And for policy makers, ten key strategies are proposed for unlocking teachers’ potential to solve the learning crisis.

In NORRAG’s forthcoming special issue of NORRAG News we shall pay considerable critical attention to the GMR of 2013/4; but we shall also look at how the multiple concerns about teachers and teaching are being positioned in the wider post-2015 education debates.

However, teaching is not principally about global positioning and global reports, even if there have been some very valuable reports on teaching, including from the OECD, McKinsey and others. It is about hugely different contexts and cultures of teaching and learning. Teacher assumptions about the nature of intelligence, achievement, and social class are all going to be vital to their cultures of teaching. Equally, their status and reputation in society is nowhere the same, and even within a single society, their status can change markedly over time, greatly influenced by salary, and by perceptions of schooling whether public or private. Again, if they are teacher migrants, teaching away from home or their country, it will be very different.


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