Syndicate content

Add new comment

Submitted by Steven Klees on
Shanta: I appreciate your response but I think you are missing several important points. First, you have been blaming teachers since the 2004 World Development Report, as well as in your recent blog. If that was not your intent, you owe teachers everywhere an apology. To highlight the problems posed by drunk and rioting teachers, in the first instance, and of teacher "absenteeism," "neglect" of their job, and "ignorance" about performing it, in your blog is to blame teachers. To do so in a blog entitled "Africa's Learning Crisis" and then to only discuss your view of the problems with teachers -- as opposed to the many other factors that affect learning, as I discussed in my previous comment -- is clearly casting the blame on teachers. Second, you couch your attack on teachers as if it is a management problem. Taking a narrow neoliberal, fundamentalist market economics perspective, for you, the question is simply getting the contract "right." For example, simply fire absent teachers as private schools do or as communities can sometimes do under World Bank decentralization initiatives.. But at what cost? Teacher turnover in these latter schools is very high and achievement is not improved. And, mostly, these mechanisms to fire teachers are a way of attacking unions. Another example, quite popular nowadays in the Bank and elsewhere, pay for performance contracts fire teachers with low-scoring students and reward those with high-scoring students. But at what cost,? Teaching to the test. Narrowing the curriculum. And often identifying the wrong teachers to reward and punish as it is impossible to separate out the effect of a teacher on student test scores from the myriad other factors that influence them. This idea of specifying very complete and detailed contractual rewards and punishments is based on a punitive view of workers and the need to control them very tightly to get them to do what management or public policy wants. To the contrary, we need to take a completely different view of teacher contracts. To start, consider teacher salaries. You say that "just raising salaries is not enough." But it is a very important start and one the World Bank has been on the wrong side of for 30-plus years. Thanks to agencies like the World Bank, current primary school teacher salary conditions are deplorable. On average, in African countries, teacher salaries as a percent of GDP per capita from 1975 to 2000 have declined by 50%! For Sahel countries, by two-thirds! Since 2000, teacher salaries have likely declined even more. And salaries in 1975 were not good. But absenteeism then was not the problem it is today, and salary decline goes a long way towards explaining it. But it is more than salaries. Working conditions for teachers around the world have deteriorated, especially in African countries. Large class sizes, again promoted by the World Bank, make teaching and learning difficult. Cuts in pre-service and in-service teacher training, again promoted by the World Bank, leave teachers unprepared. Your idea that teachers gain little from training because their contracts do not tie their success to their salaries flies in the face of research (not by the World Bank. of course) and experience. Every educator knows that most students work hard in these training programs because they are committed to becoming good teachers. In my four decades of working in developing countries around the world, the vast majority of teachers I encountered were hardworking, dedicated, and committed to helping their students -- even with low salaries and against overwhelming odds. We need to treat teachers as professionals, not piece workers. This means respecting teachers, not blaming them, having faith in them, not distrusting them. The same goes for teacher unions. Of course, there is a place for evaluation and supervision, but these processes have to rely a lot on teachers themselves. While not a perfect fit, the professional physician model offers useful guidance. Shanta, your argument blaming teachers is symptomatic of the perspective offered by neoliberal economists like yourself on issues of privatization, user fees, decentralization, testing, higher education, merit pay, and others. For the past 30 years, neoliberal economists like you have controlled the World Bank. Liberal and progressive economists, with a more positive view of government, a more critical view of markets, and a much broader view of teachers and workers, have fled, been fired, or been silenced. We will not see any significant change in education policy from the World Bank unless the newly appointed President Jim Kim decides to clean house.