Across the world governments, curriculum bodies, parents, teachers and school leaders spend an extensive amount of time, resources and money debating new ideas on how to improve the quality of education in schools. Leading the list, and the questions that won’t go away, are: what is the best way to motivate students? How do we get them to value their learning? And how can we ensure quality of teaching remains consistent, high and accessible?
Much of the time, responses to these questions result in new policies being implemented, new targets for teachers and students, along with new mandatory methodologies and changes to curricula. There are further debates around models of assessment – Formative, or Continuous, versus Summative for instance. It’s also important to remember that approaches to teaching and learning vary greatly between individual students and teachers; the destination is important, but so too is the journey. Continuously revised exam timetables and styles are intended to ensure that students are fully equipped to take on the next phase of their lives. Yet we seem to be no closer to agreeing on, or establishing, exactly which factors are fundamental in guaranteeing their success, and the lack of certainty about so many areas of education provision causes no end of difficulty for those responsible for leading education establishments, of all kinds.
There is, however, one true constant in education that has a direct impact on whether a student succeeds in a subject, irrespective of the country they come from or the curriculum they follow. And that is a teacher’s content knowledge, their quality of instruction and, of course, their passion for teaching children.
We all remember our favourite teacher; they weren’t necessarily the easiest going teacher, but they would be the one who got you excited about the subject and inspired you to want to do well. A great teacher has the ability to make not only the topic interesting, but also the process of learning, opening up students’ eyes and hearts so that they have the acquisition, critical thinking and self-reflection skills needed to make the most of the opportunities that are offered to them.
If we allowed teachers the freedom to focus on the process of engaging children and inspiring their interest in learning, instead of being forced to focus on the outcomes and results of the ever looming assessments, then children would be much more engaged, taking more ownership of their learning. This would on its own answer two of the primary concerns, of student motivation and perceived value of education, which are raised year after year and for which, as yet, we are no closer to solving.
The other main concern is ensuring the quality of teaching remains consistently high – and one of the key issues in delivering this is the worsening teacher recruitment and retention crisis. Governments are looking at different ways of addressing the crisis. Perhaps, instead of investing resources on new exams and rigorous inspections, governments should be spending more time and money on ensuring that all children have access to the most effective, passionate, and knowledgeable teachers.
Technology now provides students all over the world, irrespective of geographical or financial barriers, access to inspirational teachers who not only possess the knowledge that children need to learn, but also understand the learning models and strategies to teach the learners who are our future. This has a powerful impact on each individual child – ensuring they become inquisitive, reflective learners who own their futures and are able to adapt their understanding to suit their surroundings and their path going forward.
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