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In El Salvador, Teachers’ Day, celebrated on June 22nd, is a time to reflect on the importance of teaching—a profession that is crucial to the integral development of people and societies. In this context, on June 23rd, the Salvadoran Foundation for Economic and Social Development (FUSADES), with support from the Inter-American Dialogue’s Education Program and the Inter-American Development Bank, presented the report “The State of Teacher Policies in El Salvador.” This effort is part of a regional project that seeks to strengthen teaching in order to improve education quality. Similar reports have also been produced in Guatemala, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic, with the goal of fostering informed debates about teacher policies and inviting all stakeholders to reflect about which aspects of the teaching profession must be reinforced and how this can be done.
Dr. Helga Cuéllar-Marchelli, Director of the Social Studies Department at FUSADES and main author of the report, led the presentation. Afterward, Minister of Education Carlos Canjura provided comments on the major findings of the report and explained his vision on how the recommendations can be implemented. Thereafter, the speakers exchanged ideas with the nearly seventy-five representatives from teachers’ unions, teacher training institutions, non-governmental organizations, the Legislative Assembly, and development aid agencies, among other relevant actors.
While highlighting the results of the study, Dr. Cuéllar-Marchelli explained that, following El Salvador’s armed conflict in the 1980s, several efforts arose to examine what was expected from teachers and students, to establish a regulatory framework for initial teacher training, and to define stricter criteria for entry into the teaching profession. However, these advancements have been modest compared to the public policy challenges that have yet to be addressed. Among these is the need to establish a wage structure and teacher incentives that efficiently help to attract, hire, and retain teachers of proven ability and vocation to practice this noble profession. It is also necessary to have a solid system of information and evaluation that can improve the teaching practice and facilitate the design of mechanisms to stimulate and recognize good performance in the classroom and in schools.
“This report is consistent with the reality in which we live today,” said the Minister of Education, who also warned about the need to renew society’s commitment to education without regard to politics. From his point of view, it would be a huge step forward to overcome the tension that arose between teachers and the government during the 1960s, and which has become a “historical wreckage” that has hindered our ability to work collaboratively on the issue of education quality. Therefore, it is important to make up for lost time and begin to focus our attention on teachers’ training and professional development. Our aspiration is to get our education system to rely on the most talented teachers, but we must learn how to attract them, because “the educational reality can only move forward with the teachers.” Nonetheless, he asserted, in order to establish and implement policies that dignify teaching, it is essential to have a genuine commitment to raising the quality of education of the country’s children and youth.
While the publication, “The State of Teacher Policies in El Salvador,” was presented in June, it had already been shared with the Technical Committee of Teachers of the National Council of Education a month earlier. This council, comprised of seven working groups, provides a space for pluralistic dialogue to reach sustainable national agreements. In this context, the report was highly useful for understanding the challenges of the teaching profession from a systemic standpoint, and also for identifying concerted proposals for solutions. Putting these proposals into practice will require resources and disposition beyond governmental terms limits.
The expectation is that this PREAL Monitoring Report (Informe de Seguimiento PREAL) on teacher policies in El Salvador will become a reference document and a valuable contribution to enrich the debate on the topic. Without a doubt, a greater understanding of the state of the teaching profession will create a greater capacity to find feasible solutions to the low quality of teaching and education in schools. As a Chinese proverb says: “He who by finding the old path learns the new one, can consider himself a master (teacher).”