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Producing the best teachers

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Business groups came together early this month to discuss what they perceived to be the immediate needs of the economy to sustain long-term growth. And among these, they said through the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was the need to refine the K-12 basic education program by improving the skills of instructors and teaching in-demand skills.

I cannot agree more. I also see the need for more support for educators and schools because of what I believe to be the urgent need to make our children better people than who or what we are now, in every way possible. Our future, and their future, depends on giving them the best possible education that is attuned with the times.

But fine-tuning an education program to address the present and future need for broadening knowledge and learning necessary skills relies heavily on also getting the best possible teachers or trainers. Whether public or private, even the best-equipped and heavily funded schools can fail unless they have good teachers, and by this I refer to competent and upright people who willingly take on the task of effectively molding our young intellectually, morally, and socially.

Teacher development should be a priority. We need more and better teachers. The government and the private sector must devote more time and resources to producing quality teachers who then produce quality students. Society must value not only its engineers and its scientists, but also those who promote literature and the arts, and more so those who teach and educate.

Sadly, even the most advanced societies or wealthiest economies appear to neglect this important point. A report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) made public on July 17 noted that there has been a large, growing teacher shortage in the United States, and “when indicators of teacher quality (certification, relevant training, experience, etc.) are taken into account, the shortage is even more acute than currently estimated, with high-poverty schools suffering the most from the shortage of credentialed teachers.”

EPI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions. It proposes public policies that protect and improve the economic conditions of these workers and assesses policies with respect to how they affect them. From 2013 through 2016, the largest portion of its funding was in the form of foundation grants, while another large portion came from labor unions. EPI also receives support from individuals, corporations, and other organizations.

The July 17 report, by authors Emma Garcia and Elaine Weiss, is the fifth in a series examining the magnitude of the US teacher shortage and the working conditions and other factors that contribute to that shortage. It noted a “clear room to improve the system of professional supports that play a role in teacher retention and expand the knowledge base of the teaching workforce” in the US.

“On the positive side, the set of supports already broadly offered in the schools is a strong foundation to build upon. Large shares of first-year teachers work with a mentor (79.9%) or participate in teacher induction programs (72.7%). And large shares of teachers generally are accessing certain types of professional development, including workshops or training sessions (91.9%), activities focused on the subjects that teachers teach (85.1%), regularly scheduled collaboration with other teachers on issues of instruction (80.8%), and opportunities to observe or be observed by other teachers in their classrooms (67%),” the report said.

But it also noted that there was “limited access to some of the types of professional development that are highly valued and more effective,” with only a small percentage of teachers attending university courses related to teaching (26.6%), present at workshops (23.1%), or making observational visits to other schools (21.6%).

Moreover, “novice and veteran teachers largely don’t get the time and resources they need to study, reflect, and prepare their practice.” Only a few young teachers get time out to join “support activities”; not many have teacher aides; only half have time for professional development; and less than a third are reimbursed for conferences or workshop fees or receive a stipend for professional development accessed outside of regular work hours.

“We [also] find that more than two-thirds of teachers report that they have less than a great deal of influence over what they teach in the classroom (71.3%) or what instructional materials they use (74.5%), which suggests low consideration for their knowledge and judgment. Just 11.1% of teachers report having a great deal of influence in determining the content of professional development programs,” the report noted.

Also, the study found that “key resources and professional development opportunities are particularly lacking in high-poverty schools, where, if anything, stronger supports for teachers are needed.” And this, to me, is the unkindest cut. I sincerely believe that poor schools or schools in poor communities should be given more resources than usual to implement an education program that will equip their students with knowledge and skills to overcome poverty.

“By failing to provide teachers with broad access to effective training and professional development, as well as to learning communities where their professional judgment is considered, we hurt teachers’ effectiveness, sense of purpose, and career advancement opportunities,” the report concluded.

“We must improve both the types and the usefulness of the professional supports offered and ensure that teachers have the resources needed to access those opportunities. Strengthening the system of supports includes increasing teachers’ influence over their day-to-day work and developing cultures of learning. High-poverty schools and their teachers, in particular, require additional funding to close gaps in these resources and supports,” it added.

I am not aware of recent local studies to measure or gauge the K-12 basic education program with respect to the correlation, if any, of teachers’ competency with students’ academic performance. Some older studies — prior to K-12 — seem to indicate a low correlation between the two — or that students can still have good grades even without good teachers.

But I am still inclined to believe the strong link between the two factors. But beyond grades, the gauge should be skills acquired. Greater access to schools, particularly in poor communities, is the priority. After this, however, beyond infrastructure is the need for more and better teachers to teach necessary skills. And only in producing the best teachers can we even expect to produce good students, and better citizens.


Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council.

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