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Teachers are the key, top educators agree

Teachers are the key to education reforms and improvements.

Many countries have put a lot of effort into improving teachers’ capabilities so as to drive the reforms and improvements forward. Their success has been proven by students’ better performance and ability.

"It is not a miracle but persistent work for education," Hannele Niemi said about educational improvements in Finland - a country that has long been among the top of international student assessment tables.

Hannele is professor of education at the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, University of Helsinki in Finland. She was among the keynote speakers who shared how to improve education and do the reforms in their own countries with Thai educators, school directors and teachers at the EDUCA 2012 conference last week.

Quality teachers

According to her, Finland is well known for its intensive production of quality teachers. Curricula and the way that student teachers have been taught have been planned together so both harmonise with each other. The country has succeeded in improving the quality of education for about 20 years.

She said it took five years to become a teacher with a master's degree (three years for a bachelor's degree and two years for a master's degree).

"Ten per cent of the highly talented applicants are selected to start their studies (as teachers)," said Hannele.

She said high quality teachers were expected to take the responsibility to develop their profession, analyse complex situations like a researcher would, and make conclusions and decisions to develop their teaching for different learners.

She said what made Finnish teachers different were that all had master's degrees, there was no school achievement testing, no probation time and no inspectorate, all belong to the Teachers Union, salaries were not high but at moderate level and they had commitment to their profession.

Political will was an important factor behind educational success in Finland, said Hannele.

However, she said the country would have to deal with quality education in multicultural schools that are a new challenge for Finland, as such schools have multinational students.

A Chinese professor said China had trained teachers for basic education curriculum reform. It had reformed its education system for about 10 years. The country had conducted many surveys and studies to learn about problems before make changes in the education system.

Local trainers provided training of schoolteachers and managers in their own regions. They trained in general ideas and trends on reform and subject matters, said Prof Xiangming Chen, Professor of Education and Director of the Centre for Basic Education and Teacher Education at Graduate School of Education at Peking University.

According to Chen, money was allocated to training for curriculum reform from 2000-2007. Moreover, from 2010-2012, the government has spent a lot of money in teacher training. Meanwhile, long distance training covered 25 per cent rural schools and 27 per cent students.

The training focused on issues of teaching and learning rather than research outside the classroom; university, district and school collaboration, which was very effective in a more centralised system; visits to other cities and provinces, which started the new curriculum earlier; and pairing with sister provinces and schools from economically differentiated regions.

China has a 1.3 billion population. There are 200 million basic education students, 12 million basic education teachers and over 3,000 universities and a gross college enrolment rate of 25 per cent.

She said it did a national survey from 1996 - 1998 in nine provinces and cities on 16,000 students and 2,000 educational personnel.

"Major findings showed that school education attached too much importance to basic knowledge and skills, neglecting moral values, social skills and creativity; curriculum content was too heavy, too difficult, too obsolete and divorced from students' lives; learning materials and methods were boring; effective guidance for students to learn how to learn and self-study time was lacking; exams became the only means to assess student learning; the ways that exam results were handled brought anxiety to students; and students had passive learning experiences in school," Chen said. He added that most Chinese students considered success of examinations the most important thing, whereas their emotional quotients and morality seemed unimportant to them.

The function of China's curriculum was changed from too much knowledge transmission to helping students become active learners, to learning how to learn, and to acquiring good moral values, she said.

Focus on classrooms

Roy Blatchford, founding chairman of the National Education Trust and formerly Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools in England, said: "The newly appointed chief inspector in England has made their particular focus not leadership, not necessarily the state of buildings, not the care with the guidance - but the classrooms."

"According to the inspection system that we have today, no school can be judged outstanding or excellent unless the teaching is excellent," he said.

He urged clarity on what inspectors want to inspect. Think very carefully about what they put in their inspection frameworks, as schools would start focusing on it, he said. Don't keep changing the framework otherwise principals and teachers become confused - and ensure consistency in the way inspection teams inspect. "The most successful schools are no longer inspected in the UK and the inspectors' energy is focused on the least successful ones."

Barnett Berry, founder and president of the Centre for Teaching Quality (CTQ) in the US, suggested teachers share their teaching techniques and knowledge and learn from peers in other parts of the world via the so-called Teacherpreneur process.

According to CTQ, a Teacherpreneur is a teacher leader of proven accomplishment possessing a deep knowledge of how

to teach, a clear understanding

of what strategies must be in play to keep schools highly successful, and the skills and commitment necessary to spread their expertise to others.


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