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FEATURE STORY

Achieving #Greatteachers in three words: recruit, develop and motivate

July 28, 2014

The poor quality of teachers is a major obstacle for the region for achieving an education level on par with developed nations

When you recall your school days, does a special teacher come to mind, one who helped you become the person you are today?

With the exception of parents, few individuals exert as much influence on children’s future as do teachers. However, millions of Latin American teachers fail the grade when it comes to excellence in educating the region’s future professionals.

According to a World Bank study, the majority of Latin American teachers do not provide the quality of instruction necessary to enable students to become competitive in an increasingly globalized world.

An unprecedented research study carried out in over 15,000 classrooms in 3,000 primary and secondary schools in seven Latin American countries revealed that despite rising enrolment rates - more children attending school- the poor quality of teachers is a major obstacle for the region for achieving an education level on par with developed nations.

The report, Great Teachers: How to Raise Student Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean, was presented before a large audience at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP). The First Lady of Peru, Nadine Heredia, Peruvian Education Minister Jaime Saavedra, Brazil’s Secretary of Basic Education, María Beatriz Luce and global education experts attended the event. 

Participating World Bank officials and experts included the Vice-president for Latin America and the Caribbean, Jorge Familiar, economist Barbara Bruns, who was one of the report’s lead authors, and Claudia Costin, the new senior global education director. The event was broadcast live to a global audience on the PUCP and World Bank websites, in collaboration with Spain’s El País daily, Radio Programas del Perú and Agencia Andina.

Achieving teacher excellence

The key question of the discussion was: How can we achieve quality, well-paid and motivated teachers?

Latin America has given great emphasis on education, engineering enormous resources to improve it. However, when it comes to learning, education systems leave much to be desired, as evidenced by the recent PISA test results where 5 of the 8 countries in the region who participated - Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay- "are not progressing as expected," according to Jorge Familiar, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Familiar highlighted during the event that "the time of diagnosis is already coming to an end. It's time for solutions. "

"It's time for joint action, involving all those who agree that prepare youth for the global market is a prerequisite for development, is key to generate more social inclusion and to strengthen the middle class," he added.

Every day, seven million teachers -4% of the regional labor force- go to their classrooms to impart knowledge to millions of students.

Nevertheless, according to the study, no teaching force in Latin America, with the possible exception of Cuba, can be considered of high quality by international standards. 

“Teachers in the countries studied spend 65 percent or less of class time on instruction, which is the equivalent of losing a full day of class every week,” said Bruns. According to the expert, the rest of the time is dedicated to administrative duties or other tasks outside the classroom.

The report recommends three key steps to ensure a quality teaching force: recruit, develop and motivate better teachers.

Solutions seminars

This study is the first of a series of Solutions Seminars that draw on global experience adapted to the country context. The purpose of the conferences is to provide a frank and open conversation to bridge the gap between what is known to be technically possible and the actual implementation of those known technical solutions. The goal is to help put technical information in practice, adapting it to local conditions to create new opportunities in the short and long term.

 “Providing real solutions is key since they transform lives and increase opportunities,” according to Claudia Costin, the new World Bank’s Senior Global Education Director.

Following the presentation of the study, several experts shared their views on the challenges Latin America faces for achieving education quality that meets international standards.

Peruvian Education Minister Jaime Saavedra began his talk with an anecdote: “In every school in every village I’ve visited, I meet at least one good teacher. That is what we have to strive for, that there are more quality teachers.” The minister explained the Teacher Reform Law and pointed out that major change takes time, but that work could be done at the classroom level, dismissing teachers whose performance falls short.

Saavedra praised the teacher coaching program to improve education quality, a key point for Brazilian Basic Education Secretary Luce, who stated that “teachers should have the same right to quality of learning that they give to their students.”

The social networks were also active on the issue. Numerous comments on Facebook and Twitter questioned how it would be possible to have quality teachers when teacher salaries in the region are so low.

Saavedra acknowledged that the salary issue is as important as the opportunity for development and recognition of teachers. Gregory Elacqua, director of the Public Policy Institute at Universidad Diego Portales, and Eric Hanushek, a professor at Stanford University, stressed the importance of motivating teachers from the beginning of their training to keep them from abandoning the profession.

“In Chile, anywhere between 10% and 20% of teachers leave the profession early on because they are not motivated.  We need to invest in them from the beginning,” said Portales.

Additionally, a survey carried out during the internet broadcast of the event found that 60 percent of participants believed that Latin American teachers should increase their use of new learning methods to be able to offer an education of international quality.