International researchers gather to share, examine and interpret the future of education

Over 40 EI affiliates’ representatives from 20 countries gathered for the 8th EI Annual Research Network (ResNet), held in Brussels, Belgium, from 28-29 March. They discussed the future of quality education and teaching, and how research can best support education unions’ advocacy work, particularly in light of considerable cuts in public spending for education.

In his introductory speech, EI Deputy General Secretary David Edwards welcomed participants and presented the five EI priorities for 2012-15:

  • Protecting education against the crisis
  • Countering de-professionalisation trends
  • Confronting attacks on education unions
  • Pursuing the rights and equality agenda
  • Strengthening EI member organisations

 

Research critical to support quality education for all

“Confronted with the economic crisis, research becomes extremely important with regards to education quality, educational opportunities, and social justice,” he said. “We must collect data and provide analyses to support our vision of quality education for all.”

He underscored the challenge this presents because resources are decreasing despite the increasing importance of research.

“Confronted with an ongoing barrage of attacks against teachers’ unions, union research departments must provide updated, accessible and useful information for your affiliates,” he told participants. “We are strong together, and ResNet is an open forum to exchange a wealth of information and experiences to inform the dialogue.”

EI Research Coordinator Guntars Catlaks then presented the latest published EI studies: Equity Matters; Global Corporate Taxation and Resources for Quality Public Education; Teaching under China Market economy: Five Case Studies; Impacts of IMF Policies on National Education Budgets and Teachers; Future of Teaching Profession; and Teacher Self-Efficacy, Voice and Leadership.

He announced six news studies underway during 2012:

  • Teacher Quality Gap and Education Reforms: Training for Under-qualified Contract Teachers in India and Indonesia
  • Impact of Global Education Reforms on Teachers
  • Privatisation in Early Childhood Education
  • Structures of Injustice: Mapping Capabilities and Freedom of Doctoral Candidates in Humanities
  • Teachers’ Voice in PISA
  • EI Report to CEART 2012

 

Catlaks also outlined a research project proposal to the EI Research Institute on the impact of teacher unions on education policies.

Two key presentations were then given on major initiatives focused on a new vision for the teaching profession:

Enhancing learning and the status of teachers

Professor John MacBeath, from the University of Cambridge, UK, spoke about the report, The Future of the Teaching Profession.

The study reflects on how to achieve high quality education and coherent policy proposals for the teaching profession. It explores possible next steps that governments, communities, and the teaching profession itself could take to enhance the learning, efficacy, and status of teachers.

“The framing question is: ‘Is teaching a profession?’” said MacBeath. “What does it mean to be a teacher? What is actually happening worldwide is a diminishing sense of professionalism.” He stressed that teachers’ commitment to public service is what distinguishes the teaching profession.

He then went on to say that he deplored the use of easily measurable and generalisable outcomes to simplify politicians and civil servants’ tasks, instead of careful research of complex education and social issues.

“Our states think short-term because their political structures are based on short-term governance,” said MacBeath. “Students are seen as ‘active participants’, ‘drivers’, but it is not the case in practice, rather a pressure to meet immediate targets and curriculum requirements.”

He also detailed ‘satisfiers’ and ‘dissatisfiers’ for educators. The reciprocity between investment by teachers in the classroom and what they get in return in terms of thanks and recognition represent ‘satisfiers’. Identified ‘dissatisfiers’ are: performance criteria, lack of trust, loneliness of being a teacher, teachers’ infantilisation, and pupils’ behaviour.

A distributed leadership in schools

John Bangs, EI senior advisor to the General Secretary, presented another study, Teachers Self-Efficacy, Voice and Leadership, commissioned by the EI Research Institute from the University of Cambridge. Bangs, one of the report’s authors, made a convincing case for alternatives to the dominant “superman-style” school management paradigm. Distributed leadership in schools - when individual teachers can lead on aspects of pedagogy and curriculum, and work as a collective - is what makes teaching the most rewarding and satisfying experience both for teachers and students.

The third major presentation was a study EI commissioned to address the impact of the global education reform movement (GERM) on teachers. The study’s editors and authors, Dr Toni Verger, from the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain; Dr Hulya Kosar Altinyelken, from the University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, as well as one of the chapter authors, Bo-Joe Brans, from the University of Amsterdam; spoke about the study and highlighted six case-studies: Indonesia, Jamaica, Namibia, Peru, Uganda and Turkey. The edited study will be available in May.

Dr Verger said there has been a spreading of the GERM to try to improve national learning outcomes and improve competitiveness in studied countries. Across countries and regions, he said, “there is a mix of managerial and market solutions: ideas of choice, measurable outcomes, incentives, and evaluation”. The most common forms of global managerial reforms are:

  • School-based management
  • Accountability
  • Teachers’ evaluation (merit-based pay)
  • Target setting
  • Public-private partnerships (PPPs)

 

GERM consider teachers as the primary factors in producing learning outcomes. Suddenly, teachers are feeling immense pressure at the centre of education debate and reforms with much responsibility for education outcomes placed upon their shoulders.

Global education reforms must include teachers

The research, however, reveals paradoxes in these reforms in relation to teachers:

  • Reforms are about teachers, but without teachers
  • More demands being placed on teachers, but simultaneously de-professionalising them
  • Most policies are based on international models, which do not fit the contexts to which they are imported
  • Misuse of evidence, and ignoring policies from best practice countries like Finland that do not make use of de-professionalising and privatising policies, such as vouchers. These are often promoted by the International Financial Institutions for a number of reasons independent of quality or equity

 

Brans laid out the Ugandan case-study, focusing on the impact of PPPs on secondary education and the depletion of state capacities. He mentioned that the ‘risk sharing’ promoted by PPPs ends up in risk accumulation and unfulfilled partnership rhetoric.

Deployment of untrained teachers’ leads to de-professionalisation to the extreme, and teachers in private schools lack union representation, said Brans. These factors exacerbate continuous inequalities in access to education in Uganda. He finished by calling for caution as far as the global dissemination of PPPs is concerned, and for the necessary inclusion of civil society, i.e. trade unions, where and when PPPs are installed.

Protecting education quality and equal access to it

Dr Kosar Altinyelken presented on the underlying rationale for the adoption of reforms. Although reformers speak about improving education quality and increasing access, how ‘quality’ is framed varies.

From an economic perspective, education is considered a sub-sector. As in industry, there is policy transfer and borrowing of policies is considered successful (decentralisation, PPPs, competency-based curriculum). The assumption made to support these reforms - that accountability will increase teachers’ satisfaction, as well as education quality - is not substantiated by evidence of success. On the contrary, GERM undermines education quality and exacerbates inequities.

“There is a teachers’ resistance to global education reforms, sometimes expressed individually or collectively, through trade unions,” said Altinyelken. The reasons for resistance are: “blaming” of teachers, concerns with the implementation (financing, corruption, fairness), reform fatigue, undermining of the teachers’ status, and increased workload.

In his closing remarks, EI Deputy General Secretary David Edwards underlined the need for a vision for the future of ResNet.

“Our work is part political, part technical, informed by evidence, and strengthened via a strong dialogue with our affiliates,” he said. “We must make sure that we lay our own proposals on the table and prioritise what we can do on the global level in terms of advocacy, while coordinating more work at regional level.”

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