Education International
Education International

Reframing the debate on quality education

published 12 July 2013 updated 28 August 2013

Quality teaching tools

“The second pillar has to do with the quality of the tools that we have available to teach with.

“In many parts of the world, teachers do not have books, there is no relevant curriculum, and there are no adequate classroom materials to allow students to interact, i.e. in chemistry or natural sciences. We need to invest there.

“Also, there are new technologies available that only a few of our members have access to and that are being promoted in some circles as replacement for teachers. But being the knowledge workers, the wisdom workers, whose history and field goes back centuries, we are always used to the next salesman coming along with some gadget that can allegedly replace or supersede the quality teaching and learning interaction at the core of what we do. We remember the radio was supposed to replace us, along with the tape recorder, the television, the video recorder (VCR), the computer, the iPad, or the cell phone, i.e. the ‘drone education’. We have appropriated and used each new technology for our teaching, and we will continue to do so.

Quality education requires quality teaching and learning environments

“The third pillar concerns quality teaching and learning environments.

Quality teaching and learning environments can be measured by focussing on completion rates versus dropout rates, inclusivity versus exclusion, relevance versus dogma, and the collaboration, knowledge creation and critical thinking which permit students to know where to find answers, and formulate questions.

“That is our challenge. We have to communicate and implement our vision, and join forces with young people, parents, activists, concerned citizens and anyone else who thinks that the key to a better, more fair, and more just future is in quality public education.”

“According to the EI policy paper adopted at the 2011 World Congress, quality education is the result of both inputs and outputs. “Currently, the debate focuses solely on outputs – that, somehow, by measuring things you improve them.

“What some governments and international institutions try to do is to take quality and pull it together with the idea of accountability. Then it is no longer about politicians being accountable to citizens, or citizens realising their rights; it is about testing, evaluating, ranking, identifying, eliminating and outsourcing to private companies.

“EI condemns the fact that decades of underinvestment, low expectations and low accountability of donors, governments and corporations, as well as low corporation taxes have systematically created education systems designed to fail.

“If you are a child living in poverty it is not possible to master basic knowledge and skills if you go to an impoverished school with overcrowded classrooms and low quality tools and where teachers are unqualified and untrained.

Quality educators

“In terms of our profession, the field of education, what do we need to know in terms of our contents, our pedagogy? Developmentally, what do we need to know about how people develop at different ages?

“We have to put forward an educator-led vision for ensuring quality in our trade.

Avoidable learning crisis

“This is the learning crisis.

“Even though EI has repeatedly expressed its deepest concerns about the impact of education policies and under-investment on the quality of education, some education policymakers have said: ‘Input does not matter, process does not matter; the only things that matters are results. And we believe that if you just focus on quality results, we will able to find innovative ways to get quality learning.’

“These policy-makers have looked around the world for places that support their assumptions, opinions and beliefs. They looked to find that one teacher able to teach a class of 80 students, students doing well in tests, and said: ‘If it can happen there, it should be able to happen anywhere.’

“In a matter of a few short years, the focus was placed on education systems, often seen as too expensive, too long term, and too complex. The main idea became that it would be better to find a few cheap innovations to improve quality, quality being measured as children being able to write their names, or read a few words, not quality being defined as teachers performing formative assessment across a wide range of criteria.

“So now we have this ‘innovative’, narrow and relatively weak focus on quality that recasts education as merely a process where young people acquire the knowledge and skills their employers need.

“Given that, the challenge for EI, as the combined strength and vision and solidarity of the members of its 400 teacher unions, is to put forward another vision of quality public education. This new perspective should take into account the diversity of learning needs, the local level, and the global challenges that we are facing in terms of environment, increasing inequality and violence.

“How do we put forward a new vision? How do we start talking about organising around a rights-based framework where the citizens’ priorities have at least as much weight as the employers’ priorities? We are going to begin with a very simple definition of what quality is, and how it is fundamentally tied to equity.

“We are going to do that looking at three main pillars: