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More than 15 years of work with PREAL, service as an English teacher in the Peace Corps, and my own children’s experience in school have shown me just how critical good teachers are to the success of any education system.
Excellent teachers inspire our children, help them develop the tools to understand and contribute to the world around them, and model how to get along with others. Indeed, research shows that good teachers can have profound effects on their students’ achievements, both inside the classroom and as adults. That’s why I am pleased to be a part of the team working on a new PREAL/Inter-American Dialogue project in Central America and the Dominican Republic, with support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), that seeks to strengthen teaching and learning by promoting better teacher policy.
Recent work by the IDB, the World Bank (including a regional study on teacher quality and the SABER teacher benchmarks), and UNESCO (including the 2013-2014 Education for All Global Monitoring Report and UNESCO/OREALC’s 2012 regional teacher policy report) suggests that fostering great teaching requires comprehensive systems to recruit, train, retain, support, and manage teachers well. Despite increased attention to teacher policy in Latin America (and worldwide) over the last few years, much remains to be done to strengthen technical, institutional, and political capacity to cultivate and support effective instruction in Latin American countries. Reliable information on issues as basic as the number of teachers, where they are teaching, teacher absenteeism, and time on task is missing or hard to come by in many countries (see, for example, the recent scandal over “missing teachers” in Mexico). Teacher training is of variable quality and often disconnected from the needs of teachers in the classroom. Few systems have defined what good teaching looks like (teacher standards) and then measured how well teachers meet those standards and contribute to student learning.
Moreover, discussion of teacher policy is too often contentious and focused primarily on training and salaries, neglecting other critical issues. Teachers blame the government for not providing sufficient support; governments blame teachers for not doing their jobs; while parents, businesses, and communities remain on the sidelines. The resulting stalemate and school days lost to strikes deprive children of the quality instruction they need and deserve.
Ensuring each child has access to high quality teachers requires a multidimensional approach, including the active engagement of actors both inside and outside the education sector working toward common goals. Through PREAL, the Inter-American Dialogue, with support from the IDB and in cooperation with national partners EDUCA in the Dominican Republic, FUSADES in El Salvador, CIEN in Guatemala, and FEREMA in Honduras, is working to raise the profile of key elements of teacher policy in Central America and the Dominican Republic. The activities seek to stimulate debate, build consensus around common goals and activities, and set the foundation for change. They build on previous work by the Central American and Dominican chapter of PREAL’s working group on the teaching profession in conjunction with UNESCO-OREALC, the Consortium of Central American Ministers of Education (CECC/SICA), and national partners to analyze and disseminate information on effective teacher policy. They also build on PREAL’s wide experience in preparing education report cards in Latin American countries.
Specifically, we are working with partners to:
- Connect Latin American analysts, decision makers, and opinion leaders to the best current research on teacher policy, through a series of briefs and working papers, an active blog, and an expanded presence on the Web and in social media. The goal is to provide key stakeholders with sound, easy-to-use information on experiences both within and outside the region that have the potential to improve education quality and to assess the pros and cons of ideas that challenge traditional viewpoints. Such information can be an important source of inspiration and can pave the way for more productive discussion of the core issues that contribute to better teacher policy.
- Promote informed policy debate, culminating in a 2015 high-level conference on emerging issues in teacher policy in Central America. The event will target new topics, make the case for improvements, and share best practices among government and non-governmental actors, including political and business leaders, the media, public officials, and teachers unions. Background materials, key findings, and presentations will be posted on the IAD website and PREAL blog.
- Monitor the state and progress of teacher policy, through non-technical reports that focus on a selection of priority questions and indicators and provide a means for monitoring and discussing policy over time. The reports are designed to summarize and simplify teacher policy messages, place important issues on the table, and encourage civil society to take a more active part in improving teaching via concrete recommendations for change. National reports for the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras are expected in early 2015 and will be used to produce a broader Central American report.
Because the obstacles to better teacher policy are both technical and political, overcoming them will require better information and participation by a broad range of education stakeholders. The three-pronged approach outlined above seeks to help national actors lay out and discuss policy options, motivate governments to enact reforms, and monitor progress. At the same time, it works with governments, policy-makers and implementers to communicate new approaches to teacher policy, involve them in policy debates, connect them with experts and innovators and provide other assistance when appropriate. The project is concentrated in Central America and the Dominican Republic, but works to share innovative policies from across the globe and to create and reinforce networks of individuals and organizations that extend beyond national and regional borders. In this way, we hope to contribute to helping every child receive the excellent instruction they deserve.