In their 2012 paper, Pritchett and Beatty chart how the successes of the MDG period in terms of school access have not been accompanied by similar gains in learning, concluding that “Schooling doesn’t necessarily produce learning or education.”
The Sustainable Development Goals have rightly refocused attention on learning – however in our drive to raise learning we must avoid an over fixation with ‘how much’ and not neglect questions of ‘how relevant’ and ‘how does the way learning is imparted impact upon the agency of the learner?’
In essence we must not to lose sight of what the purpose of education is. Nor the people tasked with educating – teachers. As Hanushek notes: “The most likely way to improve student performance is to improve the quality of teachers.”
The recent Delhi launch of the British Council’s ‘teaching for success’ initiative brought together both meta-analysis of what constitutes a relevant 21st century education, and offered a nested conceptual model providing practical guidance for both teachers and teacher educators.
Setting the foundations, ‘Unlocking a World of Potential’ succinctly lays out core skills for learning, work and society. Building from this, the British Council has put together a continuous professional development (CPD) framework which draws from research captured in ‘Contemporary perspectives on continuing professional development’. This suggests an approach to CPD which:
• Should be concrete and classroom-based
• Involves collaboration
• Should connect with expertise beyond the teacher’s institution
• Should engage teachers in selecting their own professional development activity
• Includes mentoring and coaching
• Should be sustained over time
• Requires the support of leadership
While initially developed for English teaching, the Council's CPD models offer real promise as practical user friendly diagnostics. The CPD Framework for Teachers covers 12 practices (which are further disaggregated into demonstrable elements typifying good teaching) along with four progressive stages of development.
The CPD framework for teacher educators details ten professional practices, six enabling skills, and four self-awareness features.
Importantly the ‘Contemporary Perspectives’ paper emphasises that as teacher knowledge is multi-faceted, the same teacher/teacher educator could simultaneously have deep theoretical understanding, yet still possess less well developed capacities in classroom practice. This has particular significance in relation to the influence of broader teacher education systems on CPD efficacy. The Council's work rightly emphasises the importance of contextualisation of the teaching offer, but, as yet, has less to say on the kinds of system prerequisites which might maximise the impact of its offer.
In exploring the impact of the status quo of teacher education on CPD delivery, the evolutionary progression from ‘teacher training’ to ‘teacher education’ set out by Andy Hargreaves and visualised below may be helpful. Hargreaves’ analysis focuses attention on the importance of systemic aspects of teacher production and in particular the importance of understanding the balance and power dynamics in who develops, owns and imparts teacher knowledge. Implicit in this is the danger that teaching knowledge can become overly academic, ‘captured’ in higher education/ teacher education institutions and imparted by those with limited recent practical school classroom practice. Teaching by theory and in the absence of practicum is akin to trying to learn to ride a bicycle by lecture – in reality and in both instances, balance is key.
Education is central to the achievement of all the SDGs. Ensuring students’ graduate school with the skills that equip them for productive lives and democratic citizenship underpins the achievement of individual, national and international potential. Without education that expands life chances, challenges discrimination and equips future generations for sustainable development, the much-vaunted demographic dividends of the developing world could fail to materialise. A large, poorly skilled, under employed and disaffected youth is an unattractive alternative. The British Council’s CPD Frameworks are a worthwhile contribution in providing the scaffolding that makes the teacher education process purposeful and manageable. They could have a positive and lasting impact on meaningful learning– as such it is critical the Council ensures they are rigorously evaluated.
Colin Bangay is the senior education adviser for the UK government’s Department for International Development in India; the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies.
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