Virtual Degree Programs in Initial Teacher Training – An Emerging Option in the Digital World

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Latin America faces a daunting educational future in part due to its shortage of adequately trained teachers. This issue has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and failure to prepare teachers for digital and remote learning. The emergence of virtual degree programs for initial teacher training offers a compelling opportunity to support the professionalization of all teachers in the region by making pre-service training more accessible.

The global shift towards online education as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has presented opportunities for transformative technological innovation in online learning and has lent a newfound trust in the legitimacy of online education. With the necessary technology and efforts to increase internet access, virtual degrees can emerge as a much more accessible option for initial teacher training and have the potential to expand teacher excellence in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).

In this report, we review virtual degree programs from seven countries (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Mexico) to evaluate the availability and viability of online learning as an option for teacher training in LAC. These countries were selected based on the prevalence and history of virtual training programs while ensuring some level of representation of all geographic regions in LAC. These programs were reviewed across three key areas: level of accessibility to students and working adults, content and curriculum of the degree programs, and viability as an alternative to in-person instruction.

MAIN FINDINGS:

How accessible are virtual degree programs in the region? Countries in South America such as Colombia and Argentina offered a multitude of virtual degree programs. In Central America and the Caribbean, there were fewer options for virtual teacher training degrees and most of them were offered in private universities. 

What curricula do these programs follow? Somewhat in line with the guidelines set forth by many of the regional governments, the specific concentrations of virtual education degrees cover a range of topics including pedagogical theory, subject-specific majors, and programs that focus on a particular age group. Most programs have at least some focus on pedagogical theory, even if the degrees are designed around subject-specific skills. In addition, approximately 83 percent of programs surveyed offer at least some kind of educational technology course work.

Are virtual degree programs a viable alternative for initial teacher training? It is difficult to determine the quality of these programs given the lack of publicly available data on student performance, evaluation, and post-graduate employment. However, we do survey the accreditation of the programs in line with country regulations. We found that accreditation status and the enforcement of regulatory guidelines for education programs varied across the sample (see table IV in the report).

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