The GEC Manifesto for Education in Practice: Ilse Howling and Dr Mary Ashun
Teachers have a vital role and their contribution is more important now than ever. Investing in the skills and systems to support them with a learning-focused, adaptive mindset must be a top priority. In this article, Bett Global Education Council members Ilse Howling (Education Development Trust) and Dr Mary Ashun (Ghana International School) provide insight into the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of investing in our teachers to secure future-proof education for all.
“Following more than a year of disruption to education, the vital role of teachers has perhaps never been so widely recognized”
High-quality teaching is widely recognised as the biggest predictor of pupils’ learning outcomes. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, we knew that effective responses to the worldwide learning crisis would depend on ensuring high-quality teaching on a global scale. What’s more, throughout the Covid-19 crisis, teachers have remained central to successful learning all around the world – often working remotely, holding classes together with virtual technology, by phone, SMS or by post – and they will continue to have a critical role in mitigating the long-term impact of the pandemic on learners. As a part-time teacher in the UK myself, I’ve lived blended learning firsthand, my glasses steaming up under my facemask, in a freezing – but well ventilated – classroom, trying every trick in the book to keep the class engaged. There was I thinking video conferencing was about seeing people’s faces – instead, my students have taught me a masterclass in the art of the “chat” and reminded me just how entertaining – and educational – the written word can be.
A substantial body of evidence suggests that the global learning crisis which predated the pandemic was, at its core, a teaching crisis, in which too many teachers around the world were insufficiently supported to do their incredibly challenging jobs well. As schools in many countries reopen and seek to recover from the disruption of the pandemic, it has perhaps never been so vital to invest in teachers, equipping them with the skills, support and systems of professional development they need to help their students to recover learning, catch up on missed school time, and thrive for the long term – as well as ensuring the wellbeing of teachers themselves.
In the short-to-medium-term, there are several practical channels for such investment that will make a tangible difference to teachers and their pupils. First, many teachers will need training directed at providing remedial or catch-up education for students who have missed many months of schooling. This is likely to need to be adaptive, as students from different backgrounds or households will have had different levels of engagement with remote learning throughout the period of school closures, creating disparities even within the same classes. Teachers need to know how to effectively navigate these challenges to ensure that no child is left behind their classmates – or at heightened risk of dropout – as a result of the closures.
Throughout the recovery period, teachers will also benefit from training in providing socioemotional or wellbeing support for students. Many teachers are well practiced in this, and many more will have gone above and beyond during the pandemic to help ensure their students’ wellbeing. But in a context where students may be facing additional anxieties, bereavements, mental health issues, or experiences of trauma or hardship, both students and teachers stand to benefit from the provision of specialist training to teachers with expanded pastoral responsibilities. In Malaysia, for example, school leaders have received full training on how to support students’ emotional and mental wellbeing, while surveys have also been used to enable school staff to look out for signs of trauma from students’ home learning situations.
Similarly, provision must be made for supporting the wellbeing of teachers themselves. The past year has been a particularly challenging one for many teachers around the world, and socioemotional support for school staff should form an important part of school strategies. Communities of practice, such as the Schools Partnership Programme in the UK and those which form part of the Building Learning Foundations Programme in Rwanda, provide one avenue for peer support for teachers, while also empowering them to implement ideas and solutions. The evidence clearly suggests that such teacher collaborative learning – in which teachers learn together as peers – is a highly promising approach to teacher professional development.
Even as we look outside of the immediate context, the Covid-19 crisis has clearly demonstrated the fundamental importance of ensuring that teachers are equipped and supported with the skills they need for the future. This is central not only to students’ outcomes but also to teachers’ wellbeing, job satisfaction and retention rates. One critical element of this is supporting newly qualified teachers who do not have years of classroom practice and professional development to draw on. This is reflected in the UK government’s new Early Career Framework in England, which Education Development Trust is supporting as a lead provider. The Early Career Professional Development Programme is designed to offer support to help new teachers improve their practice and build their confidence and resilience, leading to better job satisfaction, improved pupil outcomes and increased teacher retention rates. We believe that such programmes of support can be highly valuable, but they must be evidence-based to ensure they have a tangible, positive impact on teachers, their practice, school cultures – and ultimately, their students.
Following more than a year of disruption to education, the vital role of teachers has perhaps never been so widely recognised – and this provides us with a unique opportunity. There may never have been a better time to build on the momentum of post-Covid recovery efforts to put in place the support systems that teachers so urgently need.
Ilse Howling, Chairman, Education Development Trust
“The instructional role that lies at the core of teaching is now supported by these new roles that require us to invest in ways we could not have imagined decades ago”
It is hard to find one individual, a contributing citizen to a functioning society, who does not recall at least one teacher who had a profound effect on them throughout their education. The teacher’s role has always had significance and now more than ever, we in the profession wonder how that significance is evidenced; the world has changed and along with that is the need to evaluate what kind of teachers we need for our children. From acting as counselors and social workers to friends and acting-parents, the instructional role that lies at the core of teaching is now supported by these new roles that require us to invest in ways we could not have imagined decades ago.
The Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, cannot be achieved without teachers who are trained, supported and monitored. Training is a big word and it requires us to identify various areas of training and most importantly, the goal of that training. We believe at Bett that we must invest in skills and systems for our teachers so that not only are we focused on training for knowledge delivery but training so that our future teachers can adapt amidst much-growing change. This is because of the rapidly changing needs of our populations, and the almost insane speed with which technology is changing our society.
The continent of Africa has the youngest population on the planet. According to UNESCO: “85% of primary teachers globally were trained in 2018. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 64% of primary and 50% of secondary school teachers were trained in 2017-18 compared to 71% and 79% respectively in 2005. The decline is due to the rising demand for education from a growing school-age population.”
SDG4, the education goal for 2030 requires that we recruit 16 Million more teachers in Africa than we currently have, to meet the demands of the population. Where are these teachers going to come from? How will we prepare them with the skills and mindset to handle this growing population on a diverse continent with the natural and human resources likely to power the next century? This challenge consumes me and other African educators.
One stark realisation is that several schools and children will have to be taught by untrained teachers until the resources are available to train them as adequately as we do in the global north. Until then, the education purists ask, is that minimal skill set enough? Is an untrained teacher better than no teacher at all? Are we buckling to quantity over quality? Is the urgency enough to take such a risk? Educators working on the continent, seeing these outcomes unfold unequivocally say, yes! Yes, to having an adult in the classroom who has some education to begin the process of helping children map out their lives, however meager it might be. Yes, to giving a child the opportunity to be in a ‘classroom’, wherever it is situated, for that child to interact with their peers and learn one from another. Yes, to the empowering of the classically untrained teacher to begin a journey themselves that involves a change in mindset.
I doubt anyone would argue with the fact that you learn more as you teach more; these untrained teachers, when supported, will creatively use their surroundings to open up a world to the children in their care. We’ve got to start somewhere and I am an advocate of recognizing that even though a teacher is untrained, life experience alone is a great starting point, replete with skills that can be honed. What we need are a defined set of systems, determined and committed decision-makers who understand the need to invest, and a sense of urgency to see that we cannot wait to think some more; we need to move.
We are education purists when it comes to the belief that every child can learn. But we also believe that finding an adult, willing to start the journey with children, is a solid first step if it is combined with ongoing skills training and the ability to adapt when a new situation presents itself. There’s no time to waste. We must do this now!
Dr Mary Ashun, Principal, Ghana International School