Panama: The State of Teacher Policies

This post is also available in: Spanish

Despite recent advances, the Panamanian education system continues to suffer from chronic problems, and, increasingly, education has become a national concern.

Panamá is a country with high rates of economic growth and integration, but these advantages are not benefitting the majority of the population in terms of obtaining a quality education. Given that the quality of the educational experience depends a lot on the teaching force, national teacher selection processes, teacher training and evaluation are of primary importance in the realm of public policy.

This report (available in Spanish) from the Education Program at the Inter-American Dialogue and Unidos por la Educación evaluates the current state of teacher policies in Panama and offers a set of recommendations for addressing existing challenges and bottlenecks.

Key Recommendations

  • Redesign and implement a new teacher evaluation based on performance criteria, learning outcomes and classroom observations aligned with the objectives of the Integrated System for the Improvement of Education Quality (SIMECE in Spanish). This task is part of the current agenda of SIMECE, but it requires considerable political will to be negotiated and implemented. This evaluation instrument is crucial since it is unlikely that other aspects of teacher policy will advance without its creation and implementation.
  • Create and implement a national system for teacher certification that includes the range of competencies necessary for effective teaching and the required profile for the classroom. This certification should be obligatory for all teachers in the public sector. A professional certification for teachers would serve to elevate the prestige of the profesional and of the sector since it would be a mechanism by which to promote the rigorous selection of well-trained professionals.
  • Develop a research agenda, with an adecuate budget, linked to the application of national and international learning assessments. Dedicating additional resources to a deeper, multidimensional analysis of the data gathered through these assessments will allow the best utilization and incorporation of this information in the design of in-service training for teachers, as well as other instruments to promote education quality.
  • Implement a system of voluntary retirement. If the government decided to create, adequately finance and promote a solid and permanent system to encourage voluntary retirement for teachers, this would ensure a revitalization of the profession. It is essential to incentivize retirement from the system of teachers with decades of service and unsatisfactory results in order to be able to induct young teachers and spur the introduction of more modern methods in educational centers.
  • Replace the current point-based system with one that is more holistic for the qualifications of the atributes and competencies of teachers. This recommendation will complement the previous ones relating to evaluation and certification in order to foster a culture of compentency within the profesion and a focus on the quality of education as a mecanism for career advancement.
  • Design a new long-term plan for the improvement of teacher’s professional duties. This plan would conceptualize more ndividualized training sessions for each teacher, linked to evaluations and results from students’ standardized tests, directed towards their needs and implemented with a program of follow up, mentoring, guidance and coaching.
  • Establish an official mechanism for conflict resolution via arbitration or arbitration, which would serve as a neutral third party qualified to act as an intermediary between the State and the education sector in confrontational situations. This type of mechanism would offer an alternative to the interruptions in educational services due to protests and strikes that are current strategies commonly used to pressure the government to change public policies related to education.
  • Initiate a process to investigate and develop options for the conversion of the Ministry of Education into an autonomous agency, similar to what has been achieved with the Panama Canal and the Superintendency of Banks. The politicization of all processes and incentives linked to the education system and the fact that each administration has to “reinvent the wheel” have exacerbated the problem of quality education and impeded the development of a long-term vision, especially with respect to teachers.

Project

The Inter-American Dialogue leads a project that seeks to strengthen civil society’s support of improving teacher policies in Latin America. The aim is to stimulate debate and help to build the necessary consensus for governments in the region to adopt effective teacher policies.

The first phase of the project (2013-2015) focused on teacher policies in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. The second phase (2016-2018) is focused on teacher policies in Argentina, Costa Rica, Panama and Peru, and includes an analysis of lessons for Latin America from the educational system in Shanghai, China.


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