Are We Giving Teachers Enough Room to Innovate?

Designing an Effective Training Program September 23, 2014

By Nandita Vij Tandan (WISE Team)

With the beginning of the school year fast approaching, the global online community is abuzz, predicting trends for the new academic year. This summer, the hot topic of conversation is teachers. Recently, global think-tanks, independent experts and leading international organizations have published a plethora of fresh content. In-depth research and surveys delve into the everyday lives of teachers and examine the state of global teaching.

For instance, more than 90 percent of the 100,000 teachers, from 34 countries, who took part in the OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey said that they love their profession but a mere 31 percent believe that their work is valued by society. Another report by the Alliance for Excellent Education, a US-based advocacy group, estimates that “nearly half a million teachers in the US either move or leave the profession each year.” 

Are these conclusions worrying? Yes. Are they unexpected? No. 

Teachers, in the developed and developing world, say they are overwhelmed, overworked and feel under-supported. An Asian education consultant I know explained how teachers from public schools, in his country, often encouraged students to take after-school private lessons from them. “The lessons that should be taught in class are given outside school. Teachers earn more money and their work is more appreciated by the parents,” he said.

Quality of teaching is a key factor to determine the outcomes of an education system but teachers today face a broad range of often-contradictory expectations. 

They are responsible for delivering relevant and up-to-date knowledge, despite few opportunities for continuous training. They are asked to instill creativity, while being held accountable for specific outcomes through standardized tests. Today, more than ever, the onus rests on teachers to equip learners with real-world skills like critical thinking and problem- solving. 

But are teachers sufficiently equipped and trained? The Hindu, an Indian news daily, recently reported how teachers in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh were stressed about the new curriculum that was introduced in the region’s public schools. 

The new curriculum ushers in a new pattern of learning, deviating from the rote model followed in the past. Children must be trained to think critically and construct the answers on their own […] Teachers, most of them, are a worried lot. Not for the students, but for themselves. Many of them fear that they may not be able to match to the expectations of the new method of teaching put in place,” the newspaper reported

So while we need to develop structural changes in existing school systems to embed new learning tools and models, we also have to think of how to re-engineer school teachers’ job description, their role in the classroom and how to equip them with skills required by their evolving roles.

There are indeed lessons that can be drawn for high-performing education systems such as Finland, South Korea or Singapore, where the teaching profession is held in very high esteem and stringent systems have been put in place to recruit, train and assess teachers. 

The bigger question is that, as we move away from “sage on stage” educational models, how do we empower teachers with the freedom, the skills and the trust they need to foster creativity in their classrooms? How do we build an efficient teaching force – one that is skilled, motivated and equipped to be creative in the classroom? 

These questions will be at the heart of discussions, workshops and debates at the 2014 WISE Summit. Moreover, experts and educators from around the world have been invited to share their views on the topic. This month a series of articles will be published on WISE and the topic is open for discussion on the WISE ed.hub

We’d love to hear your views on how to give educators in the classroom more room to innovate.