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International summit on profession holds lessons for Jamaica on improving teacher quality

Published:Monday | March 14, 2016 | 12:00 AMAndre Poyser

Andreas Schleicher, special adviser on education policy at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), says the recently concluded International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) can provide many valuable lessons for the Ministry of Education as it seeks to implement reforms to improve teacher quality in Jamaica.

In an email response to questions from The Gleaner, Schleicher pointed to several policy prescriptions outlined for developing countries which were discussed at the summit held earlier this month.

"Systems need to recognise the importance of ongoing teacher professional development. Experience from countries participating in Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) shows that policies should aim to focus on develop-ment activities which are embedded in teachers' school context, supporting teachers' collaboration, and focusing on issues linked to everyday practice and real-life student activities," he said.

A background report prepared by the OECD for this year's staging of the ISTP pointed out that implementing education reforms which affect teachers can be extremely difficult given the strength of teachers' unions and the complex nature of many education systems.

This has, indeed, been the experience of Jamaica with regard to the Jamaica Teaching Council bill.

The bill has proposed sweeping reforms aimed at improving the quality of teachers.

The bill, which was piloted by former Education Minister Ronald Thwaites, is strongly opposed by the Jamaica Teachers' Association.

"Education ministries have been on the front line of some of the most visible public policy reforms on issues related to improving quality and the status of teachers," the report said.

According to Schleicher, education ministers who were at the summit highlighted their efforts to ensure that teachers have deep expertise in the content they teach and also engage with an ever more diverse student population.

He went on to advise the Jamaican authorities to provide training which strengthens teachers' awareness of their own biases. This, he said, would allow them to be more receptive to reform efforts.

"It requires cultural competency so that teachers can prepare students to value plurality and for a world in which most people need to collaborate with people of diverse cultural origins and appreciate different ideas, perspectives and values," he said.

The education adviser also stressed that the Ministry of Education should "strive for consensus about the aims of reform concerning teacher quality without compromising the drive for improvement".