I believe that there are key components, areas in the education system that are able to determine successful teaching, or at least significantly increase the likelihood of success. If we find these and improve them, teaching itself will have a chance to succeed. Based on my experience and some research, I believe that one of the key areas is the social value of the teaching profession. In the following article, I'd like to share some interesting statistics, articles about this topic and my own ideas on the argument.
The following chart shows the first 39 countries according to their performance on the 2012 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) assessment [i]. The table is divided with three different colors to show the above/on/below average performance of particular OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.
We can see that the first 7 places are located in Asia, followed by 5 countries from Europe, then Canada, … etc. The USA is just the 36th on this list. What is that extra something that the Asian and some European education systems can do and the US – the World's most wealthy country [ii] - cannot ?
Money Is Not Everything
I heard many times, that there is not enough money for education. In fact, actually the money spent for the education system seems to be enough. Many countries with smaller budgets can show more results than the US. The US spends approximately $12000/student/school year in the 2010-11 school year [iii] . This is about the same amount that Luxembourg, Norway or Switzerland spent on each students. Luxembourg is the 29th, right before Norway. Switzerland is the 9th. All of them performed better than the USA.
Also the United States, show similar levels of performance in reading, as countries that spend less than half that amount per student, such as Estonia, Hungary and Poland [iv] .
The PISA results suggest that how the money is spent is more important that how much was spent. [v]
Just spending more money on education won't guarantee better performance.
Leading countries in education understand that hard work must be paid well to attract the best candidates from the top universities. In this way accredited teachers become a proud part of the nation's achievement and improvement. Better salary and everything that comes with it will make this amazing occupation more engaging for college students. More students will increase the competition and ensure that just the most dedicated, smartest and mentally prepared candidates will start to teach. For example “In Japan, teaching is a respected profession, and teachers have traditionally been paid better than other civil servants. Japan’s average teacher salary for a lower secondary school teacher after 15 years of service (the number that the OECD typically uses for international comparison) is $49,408, as compared to the OECD average of $41,701. The teaching profession in Japan is also highly selective, at both the program admission and the hiring phase. About 14% of applicants are admitted into schools of education, and of those who graduate, only 30-40% find work in public schools. Those who do make the cut only do so after a rigorous set of school board exams and evaluations. As a result of this system, 98% of classes at the secondary level are taught by teachers who hold a certificate in the field or subject they teach. Finally, a majority of Japanese teachers remain in the profession until retirement age.” [vi]
In the States, beside many other factors, the school teacher's salary, the narrowness of the politicians and the policy makers have been taking the toll on strong candidates, teachers and educational professionals. Today, an academically strong student is most likely to chose an occupation that provides higher social status and a better salary than teaching. With strong math and science knowledge, students would rather chose the computer, business/finance or engineering sectors and earn 2-3 times or more than workers in the education sector.
Many examples from around the Globe show that a good salary stimulates and inspires teachers to stay in the field, improve their skills, enjoy a meaningful life career and not leave the education system within a few years [vii] . However, a good salary can attract strong candidates to education, but it isn't enough by itself to improve the whole education system efficiency. Additional measures have to be taken for improving teacher quality continuously and keeping effective teachers in the field. There are good examples in Singapore, China, Finland.
For example in Singapore, teacher training is centralized. There is only one institution (NIE) that provides all the training and development programs, courses. With this approach, the government can be sure that each educator
has the knowledge and experience to perform high quality work in the school system. “Prospective teachers who already hold a bachelor’s degree in an approved subject area must complete one of the teacher education programs at NIE, as well as pass or waive out of an Entrance Proficiency Test. There are different programs for different teaching candidates, depending on the candidate’s level of education when entering the program.” “The programs at NIE are focused on pedagogy and connections between educational subjects, rather than on advanced academic training within a specific subject. Which is to say that one cannot become a teacher in Singapore without mastery of the subject one is going to teach at a high level, as well as at least a year of challenging instruction in the craft of teaching. This curriculum is constantly updated to reflect the changing needs of Singapore’s education system.” [viii]
Excellent training and continuous development is one of the key aspects in producing great teachers with professional calling. Teachers who stay in the field for a long time have a bigger chance to become effective good instructors. Unluckily, more than half of the teachers leave the field within 6 years in the US. [ix] While this number is around 18% in Singapore.
Social Value Of The Teacher Profession
I'd like to add another aspect to this argument, that is – in my opinion – as important as resources.
The appreciation, social value of teachers and the respect of a country/the population towards teachers shows at least as much correlation with performance and education success.
Just few examples to support this statement from the World:
Shanghai-China (1st place)
Singapore (2nd place)
South Korea (5th place)
Japan (7th place)
Finland (12th place)
In these countries, the appreciation is not just a cultural tradition in these countries, but a national policy. Above, I'll quote just part of a paragraph about Singapore's teacher quality.
“Singapore recruits its teachers from the top third of high school graduates. Each year, Singapore calculates the number of teachers it will need, and opens only that many spots in the training programs. On average, only one out of eight applicants for admission to their teacher education programs is accepted, and that only after a grueling application process. Those who are accepted have typically not only taken Singapore’s A-level exams (the most challenging of all the exams available to Singapore students) but will have scored at least in the middle of the score range, a very high level of accomplishment. The many other steps in the application process include tough panel interviews that focus on the personal qualities that make for a good teacher, as well as intensive reviews of their academic record and their contributions to their school and community. Teaching is a highly-respected profession in Singapore, not simply because it is part of the Confucian culture to value teachers, but because everyone knows how hard it is to become a teacher and everyone also knows that Singapore’s teachers have year in and year out produced students who are among the world’s highest achievers.” [x]
If you would like to read more about the education system of the above mentioned countries, follow the following links.
South Korea [xiii]
Instead of spending more money on expensive high tech technology to replace teachers, the government should spend more money on preparing teachers properly to do their job and support and pay them enough to keep talented teachers in the schools.
"Differences across countries in the percentage of students who expect to work as teachers, and in the academic profile of those who do, indicate that the teaching profession is not equally desirable and socially valued. In most countries, the competition for talent is intensifying; high-achieving students have a range of career opportunities from which they can choose. On average across OECD countries, primary schoolteachers earn 85% of the salary of a tertiary-educated adult who works full time in a different profession (all professions that require tertiary qualifications, including both higher-than-average pay professions, such as medicine and engineering, as well as lower-than-average pay professions, such as nursing). Lower secondary teachers are paid 88% of that benchmark, and upper secondary teachers are paid 92% of that benchmark salary. School systems will only be able to recruit the skilled and motivated people they need to build a high-quality teaching force if they can offer similar salaries and working conditions as other professionals enjoy and/or grant teachers greater autonomy and raise the status of the teaching profession. While teenage students are unlikely to know precisely how much their teachers are paid, they know very well how their societies value the teaching profession, and salaries are generally a good marker of social status.
The bottom line: Education systems have to become more competitive in recruiting – and retaining – skilled and motivated teachers. While extrinsic benefits,such as salaries and compensation, may help, countries should also consider promoting the intrinsic value of teaching by giving teachers more autonomy in their work and raising the social status of the profession." [xvi]
And finally. Just last week (28/04/2016), another related statistic was published on the NCEE webpage. In the article “ Are Teachers Valued by Society ? ”, the writer summarizes a few interesting facts: Although around 90% of the adult US population thinks that the teacher profession plays an important role in our society, just 34% of the US teachers feel that their work is valued by society. In contrast to Singapore, South Korea and Finland where the percentages are 68%, 67% and 59%. [xvii]