Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A View from the Teachers’ Summit

By John Bangs
Special consultant on OECD issues for Education International, the global body for all teachers’ organisations

I have two hopes for this summit: The fact that the number of countries and unions participating in the summit this year is up by a third compared with last year reflects the increasing understanding that it is teacher policies that matter. Their ability, their confidence and their self-efficacy are crucial. I hope that the kind of dead-end discussion about how choice and the market yield better performance begins to fade away.

My second hope is that the Dutch government continues this summit in 2013 as it has offered to do, and that we continue to build greater dialogue into the summit. South Africa is attending as an observer country this year. This is absolutely the right thing to do: to invite countries that are determined to improve their education systems to enter the dialogue with those whose education systems have improved, to encourage a dialogue between developed and developing countries. There is the dawning realisation that you cannot improve without dialogue; you have to be constantly learning.

Look at the controversy about teacher evaluations. We discussed this issue during last year’s summit. If you learn from places like Finland, Singapore and Hong Kong, you see that enhancing teachers’ self-efficacy and capacity is the way to go. That is done among colleagues and peers. The issue of pay and punishment are not central to driving performance; and publicising the results of individual teacher evaluations is insane. There is a better model—which is about development, not punishment.

Unions are essential participants at the summit. Strong teachers’ unions are an engine, not a hindrance, to reform. The success of the last year’s summit has really put the critics who say that teachers’ unions are inevitably the obstacles to reform on the back foot. They’re still there, they’re still wrong, and they’re on the defensive. This kind of summit brings the words ‘social partnership’ centre stage. The breadth of knowledge that unions can contribute to the dialogue has been highly underestimated by governments. Through Education International, for example, unions have been engaged in deep and fundamental exchanges of information about education systems. Governments often have short institutional memories about what works in education reform; unions have enormous resources and have long institutional memories. Unions can give governments the knowledge capital to work with.

I’m particularly fascinated by two areas that we’ll be discussing in this year’s summit. One is leadership; and I’m glad the agenda has shifted from focusing only on school principals to the understanding that all teachers can show leadership.  The second is on 21st century skills: What do students and teachers need to know? How do we evaluate them? That, I’m sure, will make for an absolutely fascinating discussion.

Links:
OECD Pointer for Policy Makers on Improving School Leadership: Policy and Practice
OECD publications on teachers
Follow the summit on twitter #ISTP2012
 Photo credit: © Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

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