By Beatrice Avalos-Bevan, University of Chile, Santiago.
Teachers have never been absent in the past Global Monitoring Reports, especially in the Quality Imperative one, simply because no education subject can be handled without referring to one of its key actors. However, for the first time, the current Report presents a complete and thorough analysis centred on teachers and their role in the achievement of the Education for All targets. The themes discussed consider the main elements that need attention in well-formulated teacher policies: attracting good teacher candidates, preparing them competently for teaching, deploying them equitably in order to serve diverse groups in diverse locations, supporting them in them work, and providing them with career structures, salaries and working conditions that retain the competent ones in schools. The Report also discusses the need for appropriate teacher performance evaluation as well as forms of dealing with unprofessional behaviour. As with all other Reports, this one provides illustrations of country cases that “do it well”, while also highlighting controversial practices that affect teachers and their well-being; and, very importantly, it draws on relevant and recent research to illustrate issues and possibilities for change. The Report is not limited to the very poor countries but also notes similar situations that affect more developed ones.
Despite what is said above, a second reading of the key chapters 5 and 6 of the Report makes for an unsettling sense of “déjà vu”. It would seem that nothing much has changed in the past twenty or so years in respect to the big gap in some countries (especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia) between what is desirable and what is feasible or possible to achieve as far as provision of teachers and the quality of their work is concerned. Although the Report shows exceptions and some positive country experiences, on the whole it presents a picture of very little real progress in these matters, thus helping to explain in part why many EFA targets will not be met by 2015. Unfortunately, there is not much analysis of why this has been so, beyond references to low levels of education spending, inadequate teacher conditions and obvious external causes such as warfare and its after-effects in various countries. A possible hypothesis is that in many countries there has not been an adequate policy-formulation environment, in the sense that priorities may have been set that do not sufficiently consider how one set of factors influences others, thus resulting in piece-meal interventions with little enduring effects.
Individual country-settings have problems and dilemmas related to teacher provisions that are not necessarily equally shared by other countries. Such dilemmas are reflected in decisions about priorities for increased expenditures. For example, the need to improve the educational opportunities for those who live in remote geographical areas or particular cultural communities may be mainly a question of recruiting new teachers from those contexts with additional incentives or may be a more complex issue related to working conditions and the number of teachers available in the country. If the issue is to have a greater number of teachers from outside those communities, then it is also an issue to have relevant teacher preparation opportunities and to improve the curriculum of teacher education programmes along those lines as well as to improve in situ professional development opportunities. If the issue is that conditions of service do not attract teachers otherwise prepared for those contexts, then it is those conditions that must be given priority in policy decisions. From another perspective, the policy need of a particular country may be to raise the subject-matter understanding of new teachers and the skills to teach it appropriately to diverse populations. This, in turn, requires teacher educators or mentors able to contribute to widening of their knowledge base through professional development activities and to provide feedback on their practice.
Faced with a large number of problem areas and the inability to deal concurrently with all of the Report’s recommendations on teacher quality, countries should realistically assess what would be the trade-offs of selecting some and leaving others for a later opportunity, though keeping in mind the factors that condition a positive result. In other words, the big picture presented throughout the Report in relation to teacher quality should feed into policy formulation in accordance with each country’s needs, setting the appropriate priorities and conditions for achievement along with a realistic time-line for implementation as well as clear understanding of the conditioning factors to be attended at each stage in order to achieve real progress. These criteria should also be part of external aid programmes. The figure below illustrates the relationship between three goals to be achieved and the attention that necessarily must be paid to two sets of their conditioning factors: Teacher education and career structure /working conditions.
Beatrice Avalos-Bevan is at the Centre of Advanced Studies in Education, University of Chile, Santiago, and formerly a member of the Ministry of Education. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog is based on an article in NORRAG News 50 on ‘The Global Politics of Teaching and Learning: The Real Story of Educational Cultures and Contexts’ – available free at www.norrag.org in May 2014.