Taking a lifecycle approach to professional development

In many countries, the role and function of schools are changing - and so is what is expected of teachers. schools and the people working in them are now urged to learn faster than ever before in order to deal effectively with these growing pressures. Teachers and school leaders have to become high-level knowledge workers who constantly advance their own professional knowledge as well as that of their profession (Schleicher, 2011, 2012; OECD, 2015c). Professional development and training of teachers and school leaders is most effective when it is embedded in and connected to core practices in teaching and learning, and happens continuously rather than episodically (OECD, 2014e).

In Latvia teachers’ and school leaders’ professional development is in general not systematic and is not shaped as a continuous endeavour. To start with, despite research evidence showing the positive impact of well-designed induction and mentoring programmes for new teachers (Ingersoll and Strong, 2011; OECD, 2014c) such programmes are not common in Latvia. With a considerable proportion of the profession retiring in the next decade, if the skills and expertise of the older generation of teachers are to be transferred to their younger colleagues, then urgent action will be needed.

Mentoring should not be limited to those new to the profession, but should be considered throughout a teacher’s career because of its positive effect on both morale and practice (Thompson et al., 2004). The planned development of the competency-based curriculum, for example, will require teachers to engage in extended learning over a longer period of time. These efforts could benefit from close collaboration with other teachers who have had prior training and/or are particularly skilled in the design of competency-based assessments.

Also, the transition to a competency-based curriculum is a complex exercise (Priestley and Biesta, 2013) but may be particularly challenging when half the teaching force left initial teacher training 20 years ago and has always worked with a largely knowledge-based curriculum. Though more than 95% of teachers feel well or very well prepared to teach (OECD, 2014c) one can question whether 36 hours of professional development every 3 years is adequate for such a challenging exercise and to achieve the government’s objectives to reduce the proportion of low achievers and to increase the proportions of top performers by 2020 (MoES, 2014).

The Latvian government has implemented several EU-funded, large-scale capacity-building projects in recent years. These include the Comprehensive Education Teachers Further Education Project (2010 to 2013) to improve the professional competence of general education teachers and increase teachers’ competitiveness in the context of the optimisation of education system. A total of 3 503 teachers have benefited from this project. Such projects are important for building teachers’ and school leaders’ skills and expertise in certain areas but last a relatively short time and may not fully meet their learning needs.

The review team was further informed that access to and participation in professional development varies considerably across schools and municipalities. For instance, PISA 2012 found only 24% of mathematics teachers in socio-economically disadvantaged schools had participated in professional development courses in mathematics teaching in the three months prior to the survey, significantly less than those in socio-economically average (43.5%) or advantaged schools (33.1%) (OECD, 2013b).

In short, Latvia lacks a lifecycle view of professional development that acknowledges that teachers and school leaders have different needs over the course of their careers. Though participation in professional development is relatively high, there is scope to enhance collaborative learning and working within schools, with mentoring being a case in point. Investment in human resources seems relatively low and varies according to the resource levels and dispositions of schools and municipalities. This may have contributed to the considerable performance differences, particularly between rural and urban areas. This policy issue deserves immediate attention and Latvia should look towards systematically increasing its investment in the quality of its teachers and school leaders, as one of the main drivers of improvement.

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