International Survey a Breath of Fresh Air

Just a few days ago, the OECD (Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development) revealed the results of their 2018 TALIS survey and made them available for reading to anyone who should feel so inclined.

TALIS stands for the Teaching and Learning International Survey, which bills itself as the “…largest international survey asking teachers and school leaders about their working conditions and learning environments…” providing the world with what is referred to as a “barometer of the profession” once every five years.

The OECD is of course much better known for the PISA test, (Programme for International Student Achievement), delivered internationally every three years to 15 year old students across the globe. The results of these tests cause much political pontification, and are sometimes used to justify massive changes in educational policy. The current (and still unfolding) system of educational governance here in Nova Scotia is a prime example of this. In her 2018 report on the state of our education system, Avis Glaze used the results of our 2015 PISA test as a key reason our system needed to be turned on its head. In her words, “The results in these tests are simply not good enough. Nova Scotian students, parents and communities deserve better outcomes.”

That particular round of testing measured our student’s capacity in Science. We placed fifth nationally with a score of 517, 2% below the Canadian average of 528, and only 1.5% behind 4th place Ontario. Not bad, considering our relative size and educational spending. That Canadian average, by the way, was the 5th best on the planet. However, these “simply not good enough” results were used as justification for removing principals from the NSTU, abolishing elected school boards, and essentially demolishing the collective bargaining process.

I guess we should be glad we did not miss the Canadian average by 3%.

The TALIS, however, is a beast of a very different sort. This particular survey recognizes the inherent link between student success and the way teachers view their chosen profession. In their foreword, the authors state “These days, education is not just about teaching students something, but about helping them develop a reliable compass to navigate through an increasingly complex world…a world in which…society no longer rewards students just for what they know…but for what they can do with what they know.”

With that as a starting point, the OECD goes on to declare this new expectation of students has led to us demanding a lot more from teachers. We expect them to have a broad understanding of both their subjects and their students, what is to be taught and how it is best learned, to multitask, to differentiate, to create a positive classroom environment. In the words of the authors, “We expect much more from teachers than what appears in the job description.”

Recognizing this is now the “new reality”, TALIS asks what those in charge are doing to help teachers meet these expectations. In general, it seems that the answer is “Not much.”

TALIS states that, internationally, many school systems need to do a much better job of supporting their teachers, including specifically taking a greater interest in recognizing classroom teachers as education experts. The report encourages that systems should be looking for ways build shared ownership of change initiatives and that accountability practices should be based on encouraging creativity instead of compliance. For students to have the best educational outcomes, schools must be staffed with the best possible teachers. In order to draw the best and the brightest to the profession, there needs to be a fairly significant shift in the way we view and support classroom teachers.

The first chapter of the report presents 26 “policy pointers” which are essentially suggestions for change that would be effective in supporting teachers in becoming the best they can be. The very first of these is for jurisdictions to make a commitment to ensuring teachers have enough time for “activities that maximize student learning” such as lesson planning and professional collaboration. Another calls for an emphasis on the role of principals as educational leaders, as opposed to simply managers, allowing them more time and support to develop an understanding of curriculum and teaching practices.

Chapter two delves into the  how teaching has changed over the past five years, and again has some very interesting revelations. For example, across participating OECD countries, a full 30% of teachers reported having a hard time motivating students to learn. During a typical lesson, less than 80% of class time is spent on actual teaching, which is a decrease over the past five to ten years. However, teachers are teaching longer hours than five years ago, with less of that time being available for preparing lessons.

The third chapter discusses how the teaching landscape is changing, and looks at everything from average teacher age to what policy issues were most pressing for the profession world wide. For what it’s worth, the average teacher is 44, and the most pressing policy issues, perhaps not surprisingly, are, in order 1) class size, 2) compensation 3) lack of professional development and 4) too much paperwork.

The final chapter is all about the teachers themselves, and has some fairly telling results. These include such chicken-soup-for-the-teachers-soul revelations as 90% of teachers were drawn to the profession because it offered them a chance to influence children and contribute to society, as opposed to for monetary compensation.  As well, a full two-thirds reported that, when it came to their careers, teaching was their first choice.

Now, as with most OECD administered documents, the full report, at close to 200 pages, contains a boatload of information. And, as I have been quite vocal in my criticisms of others for using OECD reports inappropriately, it would be a bit of an about face for me to call upon government to immediately react to this one.

But here’s the thing. It is almost universally accepted that having quality teachers in classrooms is the key to a strong education system. Further, it is widely recognized that how individuals feel about their chosen profession impacts the quality of the work they do. Considering this government’s penchant for educational surveys, examining the current state of the teaching profession here in Nova Scotia may be a worthwhile undertaking.

I understand their reluctance. After all, it might be discovered that the results of the survey would be “simply not good enough”, and that Nova Scotia students, parents, communities and teachers deserve better outcomes.



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Filed under Education Policy, Educational Change, Educational commentary, Nova Scotia Education Policy, Public education, Quality education, Teacher shortage

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