Teacher support requires continuous professional development

Every 5 October, the world celebrates World Teachers Day and this year marks 50 years since the adoption of the ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers. One of the guiding principles of the UNESCO & ILO document is “teaching should be regarded as a profession: it is a form of public service which requires of teachers expert knowledge and specialized skills, acquired and maintained through rigorous and continuing study…” (UNESCO & ILO, 2008 pg22). For teachers to enjoy the status of a teacher, to be nurturers of children, they ought to be inspiring and knowledgeable in the subject matter, have the right skills to teach and the right tools to do so. This implies that every teacher ought to remain knowledgeable and skilled to teach his/her subject and to take care of the children in his/her care. However, in a world where society’s needs, demands, and contexts are constantly changing, how can a teacher keep abreast? 

I am convinced every teacher wants to remain relevant and effective but sometimes, the inadequate support and opportunities for continuous professional development make it difficult for teachers to improve themselves. We also know that education systems cannot afford to take masses of teachers out of the classroom in order for them to receive further or continuous training. This is where school-based flexible methods of training come in.

For example, while it is important for school curricula to be regularly reviewed or changed to ensure continuous relevance and appropriateness to societal changes, for these changes to bear fruit, teachers will need support in understanding the changes that have been made, perhaps get additional knowledge in the new areas introduced, revisit the methods of teaching and assessment to reflect the new directions, and receive tools to effect the changes. This would require professional development and support at school, regional and/or provincial and national levels. 

Changing the curriculum without changing the way teachers, schools and examination agencies operate will not bring changes in the expected learning outcomes. In such circumstances, the best options should include mounting programmes that teachers can take while continuing to work, using technologies and methodologies that would allow the teachers to remain in their homes and in their schools with as little disruption to schools and families as possible.   

We do not have to look far for examples of these school-based approaches. A number of countries have used traditional distance learning methodologies for the upgrading of teachers (Perraton 2010), however, there is a lot that could also be done to provide regular ongoing professional development to teachers to enable them to learn from one another, cope with curriculum changes and, when new subject knowledge and skills are required, stay motivated. There is therefore still room for continuous empowering of teachers using a variety of resources, tools and programmes that will keep the teachers in classrooms while sharpening their knowledge, skills and attitudes. These can last from a few hours each week to a month or even longer, depending on the needs of the teachers. The key thing is that schools, teacher training institutions and Ministries of Education plan for these programmes and provide the resources for the training to take place.  

Let me highlight for instance the role that Open Education Resources (OER) have played and can play in helping teachers remain relevant using available technologies and tools. The growth of OER has opened an avenue for teachers to access relevant high quality resources that could enrich their lessons while at the same time giving teachers space to participate in the creation of these resources through the OER principle of create, use, adapt and share. There are a number of organizations that have dedicated time and resources to the creation and sharing of such resources; although in some countries the huge potential OER offers has not yet been fully exploited. Teachers and schools should see OER as a handy tool in the search for continued relevance and innovation. 

The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) is a believer in OER and so all COL publications are available as OER (You can browse some of these resources at http://oasis.col.org/) COL is also continually supporting institutions to adapt, use and develop OER that meets specific institutional or national needs. For example, COL, in collaboration with SchoolNet South Africa, is currently supporting teachers to improve their information and communications technology (ICT) skills through the Commonwealth Certificate for Teacher ICT Training (CCTI), as well as training teacher educators to integrate ICTs in teaching and learning; and supporting countries to improve the teaching of English Language through Open Resources for English Language Teaching (ORELT). 

Later this year, COL will be releasing a report entitled Digital Learning: Reforming Teacher Education to Promote Access, Equity and Quality in Sub-Saharan Africa. Whereas this report focuses on Sub-Saharan Africa, the issues and lessons that can be drawn would apply to any developing country. The report will look at school-based training in more detail than I have here and the authors propose ways in which Sub-Saharan Africa can take advantage of digital technologies to promote both the pre-service and in-service training of teachers. School-based teacher professional development programmes will need to explore the potential that digital technologies and OER provide in order to meet the huge need for quality teachers.  

So, as we celebrate 50 years of the international community seeking ways to improve the status of the teacher, there is a need to look beyond the teachers’ salaries and living conditions (which in some countries might still need revision), but let’s also look at how well we are equipping teachers to stay relevant and motivated with the right knowledge, skills, attitudes, tools and resources. School-based strategies would allow the teachers to remain in their homes and in their schools with as little disruptions to schools and families as possible and yet at the same time contribute to motivating teachers to continue nurturing children.  

So, next time you say, “teachers are failing our children”, ask yourself “how well are we supporting and preparing these teachers to excel”?    

Happy Teachers Day.
 

References
Perraton, H. (2010). Teacher Education: the Role of Open and Distance Learning.  Commonwealth of Learning: Vancouver. http://oasis.col.org/handle/11599/290
UNESCO & ILO (2008)   The ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers (1966) and The UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel (1997). UNESCO & ILO: Paris http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0016/001604/160495e.pdf

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