I have been guided by a teacher even before I was born. My mother was a teacher.
My gratitude and appreciation to all the teachers around the world for the wonderful work they do in contributing to education and development, in particular teachers who serve in Timor-Leste. Your worth has been recognized internationally since 1994 - today is your day, World Teachers' Day on October 5th.
|Teachers are just like a bridge to help students pass to their future.|
Recently while visiting a few schools in Aileu, Ainaro and Liquica, I spoke to teachers, students and parents in villages about the profound difference teachers were making.
Fatima Cardoso, a 28 year old mother with seven children, lives in the high mountains of Aitutu village, Ainaro District about 84 kilometers from the capital Dili. Five of her children are now studying at school, She explained:
“Teachers are just like a bridge to help students pass to their future. I really appreciate the role of teachers. They help guide our children in the right direction. As parents we want something different for our children, we want our children to have a better education."
What guidance is there for countries across Africa that are 'computerizing' their schools (or planning to do so) to help ensure that teachers know how to use ICTs productively?
To help provide some answers to this and related questions, the UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA) recently released its ICT-enhanced teacher standards for Africa (ICTeTSA), the result of a multi-study and consultation process with 29 countries across the continent. By releasing this document, UNESCO-IICBA doesn't meant to advocate that developing ICT-related competencies and skills be the highest priority for African teachers -- there are certainly many other more pressing and immediate concerns with the teacher corps in many African countries. It does, however, note that a teacher education and development program will not be complete if it does not address the use of ICTs by teachers, now and in the future. Across Africa, teachers are core to the educational process, and ICTs are become more and more relevant in many educational contexts.
In a bid to provide quality education for all, several programs to increase accountability in schools have been piloted. So far the evidence is sparse. Recent evaluations suggest that even in rural settings, school autonomy and accountability can help improve learning outcomes. This is further supported by a series of evaluations of programs that attempt to alter the power balance between consumers (parents) and providers of schooling services. Recent studies show that autonomy and accountability can improve education outcomes.
I travel to many developing countries in the context of my work for The World Bank. I visit schools that receive financial support and technical assistance from the Bank to improve the learning experiences and outcomes of students. Each time, I ask teachers in these schools what they think would make the biggest difference in the learning outcomes of their students. The most common answer is “better parents.” I often wonder if this response is, in some conscious or unconscious way, an excuse to help teachers explain the poor outcomes of their students (especially those from the poorest households) and their low expectations of what their students can achieve. However, both common sense and solid research indicate that parents matter.
Leadership can be exercised in many ways and a lot has been written about leadership and empowerment, and about the need to strengthen both in Africa. Very recently, I came across a true female leader, a simple woman with a strong personality, excellent communication and problem-solving skills, and great determination. In sum, all the things we consider to be the basis for good leadership.
She is not a politician or the head of a big company. She is a school teacher in a poor area in the southern province of Namibe, Angola. Her school is part of a group called ZIP (zone of pedagogical influence), and although her school is the poorest among the three in the group, she was chosen as the group’s leader.
In Angola and many places in Africa, parents must purchase report cards which teachers then fill in to send home. In the following account Maria Ines, Head teacher of Tchinducuto, and Director of ZIP 6, describes how her school revamped the purchasing process and found a way to earn money for the students.
In the vast majority of education systems, there is a well-defined path to become a teacher. In most cases, this path begins early on in an individual’s career choices. At the time of graduation from high school or entrance into higher education, individuals enter initial teacher training programs. When the profession is attractive (based on not just salary but also working conditions and career opportunities), competition into these programs can be very intense, such as in Finland, Korea and Singapore. In these cases, systems can be selective in who they admit into teaching, and new teachers are among the brightest, best educated, hardest working, and most motivated workers in society.
But the profession is very attractive in only a few countries. In most other nations, the number of teacher applicants does not exceed the number of teacher positions by much, and when it does (as in India), selection processes to assign the teacher positions are seldom set up to choose the very best. As a result, in many countries around the world, the best and the brightest are entering professions other than teaching. This is troubling because a substantial body of research convincingly shows that teacher quality is the most important school-based predictor of student learning. Indeed, several consecutive years of outstanding teaching can even offset the learning gaps between advantaged (socio-economically, racially or ethnically, by gender) and disadvantaged students.
Last week, I traveled to New York City to attend the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession hosted by the US Department of Education, the OECD, and Education International, a global teachers union. Of the 16 countries represented, all were top-performers in the international PISA tests, or rapid improvers, such as Poland and Brazil. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called the meeting to learn from what other countries are doing to improve teaching and learning, a sign that not only is this task complex and challenging, but that it is critical to countries at all levels of development.
So how do these top-performers and rapid-improvers manage their teaching forces to achieve high learning outcomes? The goal of the Summit was to have frank and open discussions about what works. Each country’s delegation included both government and teacher representatives, thus recognizing from the start the need for collaboration in the design and implementation of teacher policy reforms.
The new buzz words in the World Bank are Open Data. Here, in our blog, we have been championing the cause of Open Data (see New Open Data Initiative Emphasizes Importance of Education Stats) and what it does for knowledge sharing and looking at development solutions for Education systems.
You may know that the President Bob Zoellick (also known as RBZ) recently delivered a pretty inspiring speech at Georgetown University at the end of September. He was advocating for a new perspective for the Bank: “Beyond the Ivory Tower to a New Research Model: Open Data, Open Knowledge, Open Solutions.”
In recent weeks, several articles have appeared in the main U.S. newspapers– including the Washington Post and the New York Times – discussing the potential benefits and pitfalls of the Los Angeles Times’ decision to publish performance data on individual teachers. Together with an economist, LA Times’ reporters used long-existing data on student test scores by teacher over time, to estimate individual teachers’ “value-added”, that is, the change in a student’s test score in the year that they had a specific teacher, attributing this change to the teacher’s effectiveness. They found enormous variation in the change in scores of students of particular teachers, and published the names of some teachers – both the “best” and “worst”. Further, the paper announced that it will soon release the approximate rankings of all individual teachers in LA.
Will public accountability of individual teacher performance contribute to improve education quality in Los Angeles? Is this something that other education systems around the world struggling with finding options to raise teaching quality and student learning outcomes consider?
On Friday, July 23, Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of Washington D.C. Public Schools, dismissed teachers across the city for poor performance. The number of teachers dismissed has yet to be finalized, but at one point, figures were pointing to as high as 240. Other teachers have been placed on probation, and must prove themselves worthy of the high standards Rhee has set for them. She even went so far as to tie teachers’ pay to their performance when negotiating with the Washington Teacher's Union. As a British citizen, I couldn't help but think whether Rhee was taking inspiration from the Iron Lady herself, AKA, Margaret Thatcher - Britain's first female prime minister, who fought many battles against the unions. Whatever the source of Rhee's inspiration, this was an unprecedented step to take. Some may posit that she is addressing what is called, "the widget effect" - the failure to act on differences in teacher effectiveness.
In his 2010 Annual Letter for his foundation, Bill Gates highlighted the need to focus on “helping teachers improve." While many continue to advocate for increased accountability and incentives for teachers, he mentions the need to provide teachers with more and better information on their performance. As he puts it:
“It is amazing how little feedback teachers get to help them improve, especially when you think about how much feedback their students get."
What Are We Doing?
Many of us who work on research and policy advice for developing countries are constantly reminding governments of the need to assess student performance, to improve mechanisms to reward effective teachers and remove those who are not so effective, and to provide information to parents and communities about school quality.
In business and in international development circles, much is made about the potential for 'learning from best practice'. Considerations of the use of educational technologies offer no exception to this impulse. That said, 'best practice' in the education sector is often a rather elusive concept (at best! some informed observers would say it is actually dangerous). The term 'good practice' may be more useful, for in many (if not most) cases and places, learning from and adapting 'good' practices is often much more practical -- and more likely to lead to success. Given that many initiatives seem immune to learning from either 'best' or even 'good' practice in other places or contexts, it may be most practical to recommend 'lots of practice', as there appears to be a natural learning curve that accompanies large scale adoption of ICTs in the education sector in many countries -- even if this means 'repeating the mistakes' of others.
But do we really need to repeat the mistakes of others? If adopting 'best practice' is fraught with difficulties, and 'good practice' often noted but ignored, perhaps it is useful instead to look at 'worst practice'. The good news is that, in the area of ICT use in education, there appears to be a good deal of agreement about what this is!
One of the reasons why schoolchildren in low-income countries, despite being in school most of the time, seem to be learning very little is that the teacher is often not there. In Uganda, for instance, the teacher absence rate in public primary schools was estimated at 27 percent.
“Responsible Actions”, “Scientific Thinking” and “Partnerships to Mitigate and Adapt to Climate Change”…. These are some phrases from my loot bag of thoughts taken away from the World Congress of Environmental Journalists organized by the Asia Pacific Forum of Environmental Journalists in Colombo. The theme of this Congress was “Educate to End Climate Poverty” – Copenhagen Summit and Beyond…..
So what does this really mean to me? I learnt that I am much to be blamed for these changes that are taking place in the climate than any other person, organization or country that is blamed for contributing to this change whether deliberate or not. I felt that all participants in the forum learnt that when they point one finger at someone or a group to blame, they are actually pointing three fingers in the direction of his or herself. I learnt that it’s time to STOP BLAMING and START ACTING.