How Can We Improve Teacher Training in the World's Poorest Countries?

The INEE'S online forum on teacher development in fragile countries has discussed challenges facing teachers, schools and districts across the globe. This blog post synthesizes the critical suggestions of the forum.

May 09, 2013 by Mary Burns, Education Development Center, and James Lawrie, Save the Children
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8 minutes read
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© Kush Kalra

Check out the feed-back on INEE’s online forum about professional teacher development in fragile countries

Three months ago, INEE launched an online forum to begin to address the crisis in teacher professional development – a crisis that particularly affects the world’s poorest and most fragile regions. Fourteen weeks, 19 blogs, 19 authors, and over 260 comments later, we have learned a great deal.  We have discussed challenges and successes facing teachers, schools, and districts across the globe. Our community of contributors has collectively addressed the need to reform and improve professional development in the world’s poorest countries.

Their critical suggestions are synthesized here:

Invest in high quality teacher trainers

Poor teacher training fails teachers. As examples from Sub-Saharan Africa and Philippines remind us, we must pay attention to the quality of instruction that teachers receive – and the quality and qualifications of those who provide teachers with such instruction. Unless “teacher trainers” (both domestic and international) are skilled and well trained, the learning experiences they provide to teachers will remain less than optimal.

Get serious about “quality” professional development and measure it

Much teacher training in developing countries fails to meet even minimal levels of quality. As we have discussed, even in emergencies, we can promote quality professional development by:

  • Agreeing on what constitutes quality teaching and implementing standards for quality teaching and professional development (such as the INEE’s Minimum Standards)
  • Researching the realities of current teachers in fragile contexts and developing mechanisms to build their capacity
  • Designing standards for those who provide professional development (organizations and individuals) in subject matter knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, assessment, communication, classroom management, and learning and development
  • Rigorously evaluating training – not  based  on teachers’ enjoyment of a workshop, but on their successful transfer of learning to their classrooms

Integrate evidence-based practice into professional development

Sustained, intensive and quality teacher development is related to improved student learning outcomes. But for professional development to produce strong effects on student learning, it must embody evidence-based best practices. This means learning opportunities for teachers that (are):

Encourage collaborative learning

The most effective professional development models bring teachers together in a process of shared inquiry and collaborative learning and practice. Whether we call this “teacher learning circles,” “professional teaching and learning communities,” or “learning circles,” teachers everywhere need opportunities for collaboration so they can share best practice, learn from peers, adopt agreed-upon best practice within a school, and together, sustain what is promoted in teacher training.

Support teachers, keep supporting teachers, and treat them as professionals

In almost every weekly topic, support for teachers emerged as THE critical ingredient for improved professional development. “Support” assumes  a variety of forms: In some cases, support means instruction and coaching, and often involves leadership and the institutional backing of a skilled principal or administrator. Support can be material, such as access to content and teaching and learning materials.  Or as the reality of South Sudan reminds us – support can be even more basic—like ensuring that teachers have access to chalk. Above all, support is grounded in the belief that teachers are a nation’s valued professionals and “treat(ing) and pay(ing) them as professionals.”

More often than not, for teachers in fragile contexts, support involves all of these things – and all at the same time.

Recognize the vital role education plays in economic development

The crisis in professional development doesn’t simply affect a nation’s educational system; it impacts its economic well-being. Educational quality is highly correlated with a nation’s economic growth and prosperity (Hanushek & Woessmann, 2009) – and educational quality and student achievement are positively correlated with sustained and intensive professional development (Blank & de las Alas, 2009; Hattie, 2009). In short, professional development, quality teaching, and economic success are all intertwined.

Acknowledge that teacher development is indeed in crisis and act with urgency

Articles throughout the series offered stories and experiences which exemplify the challenge of improving educational quality through better teacher development in fragile and conflict-affected states. We are reminded of the lack of formal preparation that so many teachers face, especially those working with refugee children or internally-displaced children in conflict countries:

“Pre-service training, often lasting for 2 -6 weeks, normally gives untrained teachers some basic understanding of teaching, subject matter and planning a lesson… (However) even when combined with monitoring and regular on-the-job training, (this) (does not) sufficiently prepare a teacher for the job.”

Fragile nations – beset by conflict, poverty, and political instability- have fragile teacher education systems. This forum has identified the need for more understanding, improved models, and an expansion of the research base to begin to strengthen such fragile teacher education systems. We do not have all the answers. Indeed, we don’t even know all of the questions. But we do know that, as an international community, there is much work to be done.

This article is adapted from the version which first appeared on the INEE website on 6-May 2013

References

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