We must focus on Teachers, too!

Last week, we celebrated the World Teacher Day. ¿Are we doing what is needed to put our teachers at the center of our society? This is specially a critical question if the one who writes these lines works and lives in a country in Latin America.

We know that countries like Finland decided many years ago to walk the talk. ¿The recipe? 

  • Finland has a recruitment system where it chooses only the best students to become teachers, only 10% of the candidates are picked, based on a rigourous exam
  • There is also an interview where the key factors are comunication skillssocial attitude and empathy
  • Social recognition even greater than a doctor. They are highly respected by parents, students and administrative staff from schools
  • Autonomy that leads to a high motivation dose
  • Well paid

A recent study from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) called “Profession: Teacher in Latin America. ¿Why its prestige was lost and how to recover it? written in Spanish by Gregory Elacqua, Diana Hincapié, Emiliana Vegas and Mariana Alfonso, states that teaching as a profession in Latin America does not attract the best candidates.

The main reasons are pretty much the opposite of what we find in countries such as Finland, South Korea and Japan: low level of prestige, not recognized by society as a respected path, low salaries with a rigid structure to grow in the future, among others. The willingness to pursue Pedagogy as a career comes from students who have lower academic performance than other group of students who want to do other paths.

The study shows the result of a poll made in 2015 to PISA students (15 years old) where they were asked which career path they would choose in their future. High academic PISA performance countries showed students with a high desire of becoming teachers, even higher versus the percentage of those who wanted to become Engineers (such was the case of Finland, South Korea, Hong Kong and Japan). On the contrary, the situation in Latin America is completely the opposite. Only few students are interested to become teachers, with a big gap versus the path of becoming an Engineer.

Below is the graph “15 years old Students who want to become either a Teacher or an Engineer”. In green “Want to be Engineers”; in blue “Want to be Teachers” and in orange, the difference between the two.

This is a reality we need to face…

Mercia Takavarasha, Senior Programmes Officer at Generations For Peace, an international organization dedicated to sustainable conflict transformation at the grassroots in communities, by promoting youth leadership, community empowerment, active tolerance and responsible citizenship, recently wrote an article published at EdWeek as part of the World Teacher Day, titled “The Five Components of a Qualified Teacher”.

She summarises her large experience as a Teacher across sub-Saharan African countries by saying that “the quality of a teacher is not based solely on achieved academic qualification, but also on sustained personal engagement. (…)The world undeniably needs more educators, but in order to inspire students to take on that role, we need teachers of good quality—those qualified not just by their degrees, but by their actions, mindset, and perspective”.

And she comes with five qualities to identify and become a qualified Teacher:

1)  Curiosity: about everything. To be engaged with the context and situations that surround their students, individually and as a whole.

2)  Awareness: of the challenges that face students in their communities with a special attention of those who are surrounded by high levels of vulnerability.

3)  Compassion: visioning the classroom as a safe space, where students can feel they can express their ideas, ask questions and be themselves.

4)  Innovation: Specially when there is a lack of budget. A Teacher needs to have the potential to solve problems, to face challenges and go beyong being a qualified person to educate.

5)  Unity: with the goal to facilitate students to learn and grow based on different perspectives.

There is a lot of space for change in the Teacher world, specially in Latin America. The profession is not recognized by society neither in prestige standards, nor in economic terms. In the region, lower academic performers pursue Pedagogy as a career, opening the window for mediocrity in the classroom. And beyond the salary and recognition curve, the true definition of quality Teachers remains: comunication skills, social attitude, empathy, along with a high dose of innovation and compassion, to make the real change in a region where there is a valid claim for better students. If we don´t have qualified Teachers we will not have qualified students.

My recommendations this week on Spotify:

Charles Aznavour died on october 1st at age 94. He wrote more than 1,000 songs and sang them in many languages. His songs were the great example of the “Chanson Réaliste”, the tales of love and loneliness. His legacy will remain forever in our hearts. Besides “La Bohème” one of his masterpieces, here are three songs that are not so known, but that embrace his attitude and spirit. Enjoy them!

Juan Manuel Pico is Co-founder of Education Soul (www.edusoul.com.co) , a company focused on STREAM skills (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Math) for public schools in Latin America.

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