Improving Teacher Education – Lessons From Leading Systems

IN other countries teaching is regarded as one of the most esteemed professions. And teachers are revered and known as nation-builders.

Here I am referring to South Korea, Singapore, China, Japan, Finland and Canada.

These countries’ students consistently rank among the top performers in educational attainment in the Programme for International Student Assessment or PISA, a global education survey of industrialised nations that measures 15-year-old students’ reading, mathematics, and science literacy every three years.

For that matter, the recently released global school rankings (which this time measured developed and developing countries together) based on amalgamated international assessments – such as the PISA tests, the TIMSS tests, and the TERCE tests – have again placed Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan in the top five positions.

Finland and Canada still made it in the top 10 places scoring 6th and 10th place respectively. Bottom last on this new ranking are African countries South Africa and Ghana.

The question on everyone’s mind is how do those top-performing Asian countries do it? Some point to their rigid discipline and militaristic type of education. Others said it is due to their hard work ethics. Also attributed is these countries’ tiger parenting style that demands strict discipline and obedience.

For Finland and Canada it is even more puzzling that no one exactly knows what to say because those two countries’ education systems are the most flexible and utopian ever to the extent that fun is mandatory in Finnish schools. Also, in Finland children start school at age seven as opposed to most countries, where children start going to school much earlier.

But there is also one thing that is overlooked when trying to understand these high-performing countries’ education systems. And that is in the quality of their teachers’ education, something that is lacking in ours, in that they have strict quality entry-control before one is allowed to teach they pay great attention to how they select and train their teachers and when deciding where to invest, they prioritise teacher education. They also tend to pay higher salaries to teachers.

What is true with our education in Namibia is that our teacher education system is not that standardised. That most of our non-performing schools, with rural areas being the most affected, tend to have teachers who have less experienceeducation credentials or no credentials like in the case of temporary teachers.

Our teachers in public schools are also paid less than their counterparts in private schools, resulting in Namibia’s private schools attracting the most talented and excellent teachers to their classrooms.

In contrast, in Singapore, Canada and Finland all have strict quality control in that only the best and brightest are accepted in their academically rigorous teachers education programmes. So tough that in Finland, a prospective teacher will not be allowed to earn a degree from Finland’s School of Education, if he or she fails to demonstrate that heshe is ready to be a successful teacher.

A study by the University of Michigan also revealed that China’s success lies in its education system, which incentivises the teaching profession by giving teachers more respect such as the non-taxable salary and a national holiday as well as demand competency and hard work ethic at school.

The same is also true that teacher education is prioritised in South Korea and Japan, and that good teachers are rewarded and treated, to the extent that they are known as nation-builders in South Korea, with the same level of respect as lawyers or medical doctors.

What would be the way forward for Namibia then? I am a firm believer in the thesis that the presence of non-professional and incompetent teachers in our classrooms is what is undermining our education system and that it can only be improved by making sure that we put only the best teachers in our classrooms.

Thus I am glad to hear, as reported in the media, that the education ministry might revisit how we are currently training and educating our teachers in this country. I think this presents a good opportunity for us to aim high and raise the status of the teaching profession through a rigorous education process and selective admission methods in order to make sure that only those who can teach should and must graduate from our teacher training system.

Let this also be an opportunity to standardise teacher education in order to maintain consistency in terms of how we train teachers, and support them with mentoring programmes.

And lastly, let it be an opportunity to pay our teachers more than we currently do. I cannot understand how on earth we find it normal to pay those working in our parastatals way more than the people who educate and prepare our children for the future.

Source : The Namibian