A View from the Teachers’ Summit

By John Bangs
Special consultant on OECD issues forEducation International, the global body for all teachers’ organisations

I have two hopes for this summit: The fact that thenumber of countries and unions participating in the summit this year is up by athird compared with last year reflects the increasing understanding that it isteacher policies that matter. Their ability, their confidence and theirself-efficacy are crucial. I hope that the kind of dead-end discussion abouthow choice and the market yield better performance begins to fade away.

My second hope is that the Dutch government continuesthis summit in 2013 as it has offered to do, and that we continue to buildgreater dialogue into the summit. South Africa is attending as an observercountry this year. This is absolutely the right thing to do: to invitecountries that are determined to improve their education systems to enter thedialogue with those whose education systems have improved, to encourage adialogue between developed and developing countries. There is the dawningrealisation that you cannot improve without dialogue; you have to be constantlylearning.

Look at the controversy about teacher evaluations. Wediscussed this issue during last year’s summit. If you learn from places likeFinland, Singapore and Hong Kong, you see that enhancing teachers’self-efficacy and capacity is the way to go. That is done among colleagues andpeers. The issue of pay and punishment are not central to driving performance;and publicising the results of individual teacher evaluations is insane. Thereis a better model—which is about development, not punishment.

Unions are essential participants at the summit.Strong teachers’ unions are an engine, not a hindrance, to reform. The successof the last year’s summit has really put the critics who say that teachers’unions are inevitably the obstacles to reform on the back foot. They’re stillthere, they’re still wrong, and they’re on the defensive. This kind of summitbrings the words ‘social partnership’ centre stage. The breadth of knowledgethat unions can contribute to the dialogue has been highly underestimated bygovernments. Through Education International, for example, unions have beenengaged in deep and fundamental exchanges of information about educationsystems. Governments often have short institutional memories about what worksin education reform; unions have enormous resources and have long institutionalmemories. Unions can give governments the knowledge capital to work with.

I’m particularly fascinated by two areas that we’ll bediscussing in this year’s summit. One is leadership; and I’m glad the agendahas shifted from focusing only on school principals to the understanding thatall teachers can show leadership.  Thesecond is on 21st century skills: What do students and teachers need to know? Howdo we evaluate them? That, I’m sure, will make for an absolutely fascinatingdiscussion.

OECD Pointer for Policy Makers on Improving School Leadership: Policy and Practice
OECD publications on teachers
Follow the summit on twitter #ISTP2012
 Photo credit: © Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock