Global Co-ordination > Working Group on Education for All >
First meeting / Document 11
Teachers and the Quality of Education
Education International
(Draft for the discussion)

Introduction

To discuss what we understand by quality raises all the fundamental questions concerning the purpose of education. It is not surprising that the answers given to this question vary greatly.

For Education International focusing on quality in education must start with the learner. Quality must focus on the child's experiences of schooling and what that experience enables the child to achieve. There can be no quality without access.

The focus on quality also has the potential to bring back the teacher into the centre of the debate. If education is important this also means that teachers are important.

There are many difficulties in measuring and evaluating quality in ways that will allow must complex and sensitive use of the concept. Some attempts to quantify quality may risk undermining the very thing they claim to support

What good can come out of focusing on quality?

The focusing on quality in education may have several positive outcomes for teachers. First of all the fact that quality in education is discussed is indirectly a way of recognising that education is important. Now it is recognised that education is one of the most important factors, which will affect the development of a country.

Every discussion on quality has to relate to teachers. Education is to a large extent a matter of a learning process, which takes place through the interaction between teacher and student. When this process works well, real learning will take place. A very natural conclusion is that quality education requires quality teachers. This highlights the significance of acknowledging teaching as a profession, rather than as something anyone can do. These links the discussion on quality in education to how the recruitment of teachers can be improved which links the discussion to teachers working conditions and pay. If society would like to provide high quality education there is a need to attract the best students to teacher education and to maintain qualified teachers in the education system.

What are the risks?

Unfortunately there are no developments, which do not contain both opportunities and risks, and that is certainly true for the discussion on quality in education. Demands on improved quality in education are often combined with demands on quality control. As mentioned above there is no generally accepted definition on quality, which makes the quality control rather difficult. The tendencies we can observe in many school systems is an increased emphasise on tests and school inspections. None of these in itself is a bad thing, but when performed in excess and combined with other measures the results could be damaging.

All parents would like to have quality education for their children and for some parents the way to get it is to have the right to pick and choose schools. If this right is combined with making test results public and publishing of ranking lists of schools there is an obvious risk that social segregation in schools increases further.

When it is recognised that the teacher plays a crucial role in improving the quality one question which might occupy politicians is how to reward those they regard as the really good teachers. For some the answer to this question is performance pay. Performance pay has been discussed in the education sector for a long time and the problem has always been how to measure good performance without rewarding or punishing teachers only because they have been teaching a certain group of students. Most teacher unions have clearly opposed any move in direction of performance pay, but in some countries unions have accepted elements of performance pay in the pay structure under certain conditions.

The role of teacher unions

Traditionally Teachers unions have been involved in both professional and industrial issues with greater emphasis on one or other at difficult times

Increasingly teacher organisations must focus on quality education in order to protect and to improve the situation of their members. The question is how quality education can become an integral part of teacher unions' strategy.

One obvious element in a union strategy is to clearly establish the link between the investment made in education and the quality you get. Quality can not be achieved through decreasing resources allocated to education. In many countries investment in school equipment and buildings has been neglected during recent decades. If governments like to have quality they must also be prepared to regard the amount of resources invested in education as a part of the measures needed. But it is not enough just to invest in education, it is also crucial to make the right investments.

The professional freedom of teachers is of crucial importance in developing quality in education. Professional freedom does not mean that the teacher can do whatever he or she likes, but that the teacher, who knows the students, is the person best equipped to decide which methods to use in order to create an optimal learning situation.

Teachers' working conditions are also closely related to their students' learning conditions. A school environment allowing teachers to do a good job will automatically improve the learning conditions for the students.

Some reviews of the factors affecting the academic achievement of school children conclude that the influence of issues such as the education of the teacher is of great importance. The significance of improving teacher education and the importance of seeing that all teachers have an appropriate qualification and training cannot be overemphasised.

Teaching is a lifelong commitment. Human knowledge continually expands and environments are constantly evolving. Quality in-service training is a fundamental right. Continuous professional development is of crucial importance in maintaining the level of teachers' education and retaining them in the profession. To improve the quality of education, teachers must be supported in their efforts to develop themselves professionally.

Pedagogical research must be strengthened as an instrument to improve the quality of education, and the results of such research should be communicated to teachers in a more effective manner. There must also be opportunities for teachers to broaden their skills and knowledge in order to be qualified in other subjects, at other levels in the education system and to participate in research projects.

If teachers are to provide quality education, then they must be paid fairly and regularly and be able to feed, clothe and house themselves and their family without doing another job

An additional and fundamental prerequisite for students to learn is that they are properly fed and benefit from a general good level of health and well-being. In many countries around the world this is a real problem. Even if the students come to school, they cannot concentrate on their studies if they are hungry. Introducing school meals could in some countries be a step towards reducing dropout due to malnutrition and ill-health.

During the last decade or so, we have witnessed explosive technological progress in the World. Used properly, new technologies are a powerful aid in developing students' skills and knowledge. Information and communication technologies can and should be used as educational tools in all subjects. There is a risk that the introduction of new technologies will further increase the gap between the North and the South. A serious effort to avoid this development must be made and is the joint responsibility of governments worldwide.

Today a quality education is one that produces high levels of literacy and numeracy. But it must also be one that increases knowledge about the needs and demands of our societies that quote Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

"Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United nations for the maintenance of peace".

Important issues such as environmental problems, AIDS/HIV, violence, the growing threats against democracy through increasing racism and xenophobia must be reflected in today's education.

As mentioned above, is the question how to measure quality a central question. This question is related to the discussions on evaluation, assessment and appraisal, which have been raised in many countries. In these discussions there is a risk, as mentioned above, that teachers are turned in to objects which are evaluated by others. The growing interest for school self-evaluation, which has been manifested in many teacher union initiatives in recent years, must be seen from this perspective. School-based evaluation is a process through which teachers discuss the functioning of their own school as a group of professionals in such a way as to bring about improvement. In this way, teachers will be able to plan different kinds of activities to improve quality and methods of reallocating existing resources so that quality objectives will be more readily achieved. Teachers need to be given the training, the time and opportunity to plan and implement evaluation activities. By offering self-evaluation as a complement to tests and school inspections the teacher can be active contributor within education policy instead of objects.