Public school teachers in Brazil, Indonesia or Peru have stable jobs, enjoy high level of legal protection, and are part of teacher unions that shield them politically. Public school teachers in Finland also have stable jobs and are rarely fired. They are represented by a powerful teacher union, which is very influential among other stakeholders in policy discussions. Why do student learning outcomes among these countries vary dramatically?
In the classroom, along with her sixth-grade classmates, Yudeisy tells us that what she likes doing the most during the day is watching videos and tutorials on YouTube. She also likes to use her computer and cell phone because she can watch music videos, influencers' clips and interviews with her favorite artists. Yudeisy, along with her classmates in a public elementary school in Santo Domingo, is part of a four-month pilot to reinforce mathematics using software that adapts to the math level of each student.
The Economist recently published an article about the promise of technology to improve the quality of education in low- and middle-income countries. It gives a balanced view of technology’s potential: It isn’t “a substitute for well-qualified, motivated teachers” and in order to work, “tech innovations need the acceptance of teachers and administrators.” But it can help teachers to manage classrooms with students at dramatically different learning levels, and it can help administrators to monitor teacher performance. The examples in the articles are backed up by high-quality studies of the impact of educational technology on student learning.
More than one billion people around the world experience some form of disability. Individuals with disabilities have, on average, poorer health, lower levels of employment and earnings, and higher poverty rates. Children with disabilities are especially at a disadvantage when it comes to enrolling and completing school but also how much they learn while in school. This is especially acute in Sub-Saharan Africa, where our latest research, The Challenge of Inclusive Education in Africa, shows that disability gaps in education are increasing.
When I was 13, my literature teacher Estela asked the class to look at two drawings and write down a story about each one them. I looked at the drawings: one was of a man in a suit and tie who was carrying a suitcase and wearing a watch. The other was of the same man but he had a beard, torn clothes and broken shoes. I wrote the first story about a successful man with an amazing family, the second about a poor, sad man who had no friends. Estela seemed disappointed and asked me if people are defined by their clothes. That day, my teacher spoke about prejudices and I learned something that I won’t forget.
Teachers are important. And many teachers in low- and middle-income countries would benefit from support to improve their pedagogical skills. But how to do it? Again and again, evidence suggests that short teacher trainings – usually held in a central location – don’t do much of anything to improve teacher practice. Likewise, much teacher training is overly theoretical and doesn’t translate into practical pedagogical improvements.
Providing teachers with one-on-one coaching is a popular alternative. A coach comes to the classroom, observes the teacher, and provides practical feedback. It makes sense. As Kotze and others put it (in turn paraphrasing earlier authors), “Teachers only learn to do the work by doing the work, and not by being told to do the work, or being told how to do the work, or being told that they will be rewarded or punished for outcomes associated with the work.” A recent review of U.S. evidence shows big impacts of coaching on both teacher practices and on student learning. But those big effects are concentrated in small-scale programs: Effects tend to be much smaller when implemented at scale. Outside a high-income environment, a teacher coaching pilot in South Africa compared coaching to a more traditional training at a central location. Students whose teachers received coaching learned twice as much as students who teachers received training.
But implementing coaching at scale presents a number of challenges. First, it’s costly. Second, where do you find the coaches? Technology has the potential to help. In a follow-up experiment, researchers in South Africa compared on-site coaching to “virtual coaching” to compare effectiveness. Initial results have just come out in Kotze, Fleish, and Taylor’s “Alternative forms of early grade instructional coaching: Emerging evidence from field experiments in South Africa.”
In every country, there are dedicated and enthusiastic teachers who enrich and transform the lives of millions of children. Silent heroes who often lack proper training, teaching materials and are not recognized for their work. Heroes who defy the odds and make learning happen with passion, creativity and determination.
Happy World Teachers’ Day! No part of the school experience has greater potential to set students on a path to success than a great teacher. Likewise, researchers are constantly seeking to learn how education systems can help students learn the most from their teachers. Here are 10 studies from recent months on helping teachers to be their best.
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Countries with the best education outcomes are those in which society places high value on the teaching profession. That value is reflected in the relationship between the state, society, and the teacher; in the support given to teachers (including reasonable salaries), in the trust placed in them; and in the recognition bestowed upon them by society, parents, and the community as well as the value they place on the tremendous responsibility that they bear.
In many ways, Ethiopia’s teacher Continuous Professional Development program is an education specialist’s dream: teachers regularly collaborate with peers, they are mandated to complete 60 hours of professional learning every year, and in some regions, they receive promotions based on performance in the classroom. The structure mirrors many aspects of international best practice and yet the system falters, primarily because it is missing a key ingredient: content.