Teachers: Selection, Career, Assessment & Incentives
A well-trained and well-paid teaching staff and management, with well-defined career paths and adequate incentives for good performance, are common elements of successful school systems.44 The training, management and professional development of teachers and principals are fundamental factors in an education system. International evidence points to the teacher as the most important factor in learning.45. In recent years, reforms in teaching policy in Latin America have concentrated on five fundamental areas: selection, initial training, support, continuing training and incentives. In each of these areas, lack of clarity in the distribution of responsibilities is one of the main problems. Furthermore, co-ordination between the educational and cultural demand of society and teacher training, which is often outdated and not sensitive to educational demands. Consolidating a real professionalization of teachers and management is also increasingly urgent, as this benefits the quality of the system. Along these lines, it is important to define a set of coherent standards on expectations in terms of knowledge, skills and values associated with effective teaching and management. Improving working conditions, optimising systems for hiring new teachers and principals and offering attractive and flexible career plans can have a major impact on student performance.
In the last two decades, the teaching staff in Latin America underwent a series of transformations. The predominance of women in the profession increased. Towards the beginning of the 1990s one in every four teachers was male, while by the end of the first decade of the 2000s male teachers represented only one in six. During this period, the greater presence of female teachers in pre-school and primary
School in comparison to secondary school was maintained. In addition, the average age of teachers has increased. The percentage of teachers over 45 years of age rose from 7% to 28%. At the other extreme, if in the 1990s one in four teachers was 24 years of age or under, by the end of the first decade of the 2000s only one in ten teachers fell within this age range. This confirms that less and less young people are opting for teaching. The percentage of teachers that have completed higher education fell from 17% to 12%. It is interesting to note that this decrease has been among secondary school teachers. The education level of pre-school and primary school teachers has improved slightly.
Selection mechanisms are important to the quality of teaching staff. To attract the best possible teachers, it is important to have a mechanism for the recruitment and assessment of candidates, which in various countries of the region is not well developed. Strengthening the preparation of new teachers is fundamental. The introduction of an accreditation system for teachers’ colleges (Escuelas Normales) and other teaching institutions is essential. Some studies show that there are great differences among schools in the evaluation mechanisms for new teachers. The use of clearer performance measures to assure a minimum level of teaching skills for all teachers could be an important medium-term objective. Regarding the quality of teaching, there are major differences in the region: in countries currently expanding their coverage, the main problem is the lack of teachers to cover the demand, rather than the quality and selection mechanisms.
Another important element related to teaching careers is competition for teaching positions. Currently, many positions are allocated by special commissions (as is the case in Colombia and Mexico). This results in an inadequate distribution of resources. Other types of mechanisms must be found for assigning teachers to posts; for example, mechanisms to place teachers in those schools where their individual skills are most needed. The schools themselves must be directly involved in these decisions.46.
Beyond salary, possibilities for professional development for teaching staff are often limited and irregular. The most successful incentives for teachers are those associated with professional prospects and not only factors such as salary or training opportunities. The courses and training available may not always be relevant. It is necessary to provide training that meets teachers’ needs. In addition, the involvement of school principals is essential to improve the effectiveness of schools. In addition, the professionalization of the teaching career must also include school principals. In general there are not adequate training programmes for principals or incentives for them to improve school performance. The appointment and professionalization of principals must be clear, with transparent selection schemes. Institutional leadership is built from within and across schools. An exchange of experiences among principals has been shown to be effective in other contexts (see Box 4.5) and can reduce significant disparities among different high- and low-performing schools. The autonomy of principals is therefore important in guiding and better supporting teachers in their educational practice. Principals must have the power to hire or suspend a teacher, but also to introduce incentives, make decisions on the curriculum and manage the professional training necessary for the school. Giving greater financial autonomy to schools also means that principals must have better management skills.
A remaining challenge in the region is to assign qualified teachers to schools with the greatest need. Equity in performance is affected by the tendency to concentrate the best teachers in the most privileged schools.47. In Colombia, for example, less than one third of the teachers in the most vulnerable areas (i.e. Poor areas, areas exposed to armed conflicts and those with a higher presence of indigenous people or people of African descent) have higher-education qualifications; in contrast, in departments that are better off, more than three quarters of the teachers do. A better distribution of teaching staff is possible through appropriate incentives tied to pay and career prospects. Another possibility is to focus on policies that help
To strengthen the quality of education in the most vulnerable schools. Examples of this approach are CONAFE, the national council for the Promotion of education (Consejo Nacional de Fomento Educativo) in Mexico and “Escuela Nueva” in Colombia. These programmes offer syllabuses adapted for students in rural schools, but also provide continuing education for teachers so that they can carry out their jobs in these specific contexts.48.