How does the world produce all the teachers it needs?

Professor Bob Moon, Professor of Education at The Open University in the UK,  penned a piece in 2010 for the Commonwealth of Learning site entitled: Time for Radical Change in Teacher Education. Professor Moon is also a founding Director of the Teacher Education in Sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA) programmme, a superb repository for teacher training resources in English, Arabic and French, all available under a Creative Commons licence. TESSA is managed by the OU and a consortium of around twenty higher education and other organizations with an interest in African education.

In this short piece, Professor Moon makes the simple, and I think, unassailable, argument that, all around the world, across the developed and developing world, ‘the supply, retention, education and training of teachers’ is in crisis. This is just as much the case in the USA, where:

.…around half of all high school subjects are taught by non-specialists (in Mathematics and Science the figures are even higher).

…as it is in other parts of the world, where it is often even more acute:

In Sub-Saharan Africa, it is estimated that around half of all primary, basic education teachers are unqualified or significantly underqualified. Thousands of schools are staffed by volunteer, contract teachers. The situation is so desperate that some countries have made teaching an alternative to military service. The description “teacher” now has a very wide meaning.

Professor Moon is very clear that the current approach to teacher education, the ‘bricks and mortar’ approach of simply building more and more campus institutions to deal with the shortfall, will not suffice. This is not a comment on the quality or otherwise of a campus-based education, but a simple question of capacity — we simply cannot build and staff universities and teacher-training institutions quickly enough to deal with the crisis.

He suggests six key strategies for dealing with the situation:

  • Fully integrate school-based, distance approaches into national training policies: not “bolt-on projects” to deal with crises but fully integrated strategic thinking.
  • Establishing a new, practical, classroom focussed, curriculum for upgrading courses, and for continuing professional development: the biggest problems for distance education courses is when planners try to replicate the organisation of campus-based credit courses.
  • Adapt more formative portfolio assessment systems giving primacy to classroom practice: the dead hand of timed examinations still weighs heavily on many programmes.
  • Model costs in programme design in advance of implementation: problems of sustainability almost always arise when this is not done.
  • Plan for the progressive adaptation of information and communication technology (ICT), especially mobile technologies: too many distance programmes continue to ignore the potential of this.
  • Use media, especially radio, to make training more interesting and stimulating: too much teacher education, quite frankly, is plain boring.

It’s time for distance learning to come to the fore, and to prove its worth on a global scale, and that is precisely the aim of the CommonLearn platform.