We all instinctively recognize a good teacher when we meet one—someone who brings the subject matter to life, makes it relevant, supports critical engagement, and so much more. Many of us can name at least one teacher who made a big difference in our educational journey. Perhaps that is why writers and movie makers—from the musty days of Goodbye, Mr. Chips and Blackboard Jungle, to Sidney Poitier in To Sir with Love to Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart, to Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society and Richard Dreyfuss in Mr. Holland’s Opus—have found success in relating stories of the profound effect that good teachers can have on learning and on the lives of their students.
While the personal and vocational qualities that characterize all good teachers are important, other factors also inform the making and nurturing of good teachers, including quality training. In this three-part blog series drawing on the findings of IEG’s Selected Drivers of Education Quality: Pre- and In-Service Teacher Training we first discuss what underpins effective teacher training then, in subsequent blogs, we look at World Bank support for quality teaching. Of course, we recognize that context—governance, the policy environment, the quality of service delivery, resources, incentives—can also shape and influence how teachers are trained and the expectations under which they operate. Even allowing for this, the importance of training in producing quality teachers who contribute to quality learning outcomes cannot be underestimated.
So, what do we know? First, we know that teacher effort and capacity are critical to student learning and educational outcomes. We also know, as highlighted in the World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize the Promise of Education, that quality learning is, or at least should be, central to any education system. Finally, we know that, in line with the World Bank’s Human Capital Project, education is critical for human development. Put simply, we know that the stakes are high.
As such, and as illustrated below, support for professional development to improve teacher capacity—both pre-service and in-service—is a critical input in pursuit of education quality.
Quality pre-service training relies, in the first instance, on screening and filtering mechanisms designed to ensure the selection of quality candidates. But the efficacy of these mechanisms is itself reliant on high demand premised on the attractiveness of teaching compared to other professions. The attractiveness of teaching rests on factors such as initial pay, career opportunities, incentive and support structures, classroom and school working conditions, as well as cultural aspects related to how society views teachers. To ensure the selection of quality of candidates, screening requires transparent and meaningful requirements to enter and exit pre-service institutions, such as examinations, grades, or graduation requirements.
Coursework in both content and pedagogical knowledge that is grounded in the curricula of the schools where trainee teachers will eventually teach is clearly essential. This requires the availability of qualified teacher educators who can impart relevant skills. But it also needs to be supported by the necessary learning materials as well as the requisite duration and intensity of teacher training courses –determined with reference to context—to ensure the development of effective teachers.
Teaching involves the mastery and exercise of various skills, which makes practicum—the supervised practical application of a previously or concurrently studied field or theory—a critical component of well-rounded professional development. Effective practicums help teachers gradually assume more tasks and more responsibilities supported by monitoring and mentoring based on productive partnerships between training institutions and schools. This, in turn, should help create a trainee-centered experience that allows for formative assessment based on constructive feedback, accompanied by reflection and dialogue.
Effective quality assurance mechanisms can underpin the entire education system through, for example, provision of accreditation for training institutions and support for certification and alternative preparation for teaching. More specifically, quality assurance can underpin quality, objectivity, and transparency for both pre- and in-service training systems. It can help ensure adherence to training standards, removal of political influence, and the exercise of effective control over the number of candidates entering the system. Quality assurance can also ensure regulation of screening mechanisms regarding, for example, the implementation and integrity of assessment and examinations, providing clear signals that such screening mechanisms are free from manipulation.
Finally, quality in-service training can be vital in supplementing and improving teachers’ instructional practices and knowledge conducive to student learning. Quality in-service training observes adult learning principles, is implemented over an adequate duration, and offers sustained follow-up support through coaching or feedback that promotes reflection. It may be easier to ensure the presence of these characteristics in smaller pilot efforts, but it is imperative, if enhanced learning outcomes are the focus, that quality is maintained and sustained when in-service training is scaled up.
In the second and third blog in this series we elaborate on what the World Bank has done to support pre- and in-service teacher training, where it has placed an emphasis, what it has done well, and where it might need to improve to scale-up training programs.