Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The status of teachers

In raise status of teachers, add some authority and watch our students blossom, Frank Furedi argues that
Many of the universities I visit now provide remedial courses for their new intake of undergraduates to compensate for their knowledge deficit.
Certainly this true at UWA. The article is worth reading in full, but here are some selected quotes, with my added emphasis:
The most important cultural influence on children's school performance is the expectation their teachers, parents and communities communicate towards them. The reason East Asian school systems tend to outperform Anglo-American ones is not that they have a superb strategy for mentoring or training teachers, but because they perform within a culture of high expectation. In these societies, schools expect all children to take their studies seriously. As a result, their work rate is significantly higher than those of their peers in Western societies. Not surprisingly, high standards of performance often co-exist with equity.
A serious commitment to the value of education is far more important than any pedagogic system or technique. That is why children from Hong Kong, China and Korea outperform their Western peers even when they attend schools in Australia, the US or Europe.
Anglo-American pedagogy has embraced an anti-academic and anti-intellectual ethos: Accordingly the main objective of schools is to motivate youngsters, rather than drive the acquisition of knowledge. One of the hallmarks of this focus is the devaluation of academic subject-based learning. Opponents of subject-based teaching enthuse about motivating children through engaging them in broad themes and projects. In reality, the shift from academic subject-based teaching is underpinned by a dogma of low expectations that decries such education as elitist and too abstract.
..."compartmentalised" subjects—mathematics, history, biology—are the intellectual foundation for real education. Indeed, one of the symptoms of educational malaise in English-speaking societies is the lack of affirmation for subject-based education.
Occasionally, the Grattan report recognises the key role of subject-based education. For example, it notes that a strong focus on subject content is responsible for Singaporeans' success in mathematics. In Singapore, mathematics university graduates actually teach their subject to young people! Subject-based education is not simply the most effective way of transmitting the intellectual and cultural legacy of a community. It is through mastering an academic subject that a teacher acquires authority in the classroom.
The current trend towards "broadening education" and diminishing the role of academic subjects devalues the professional status of teachers, whose authority rests on their mastery of a particular subject. Without this intellectual foundation they have to rely on gimmicks and a variety of class management skills. But motivational techniques do not compensate for the impact intellectual authority makes on a classroom.
In Australia a regrettable erosion of the professional status of teachers is intimately connected to school performance. It also undermines the appeal the profession has for potential recruits. Is it any surprise that bright young graduates are less inclined to view teaching as their profession of choice? Shortages of properly educated maths and science teachers in Australian schools emphasise the need to enhance the status and authority of this important profession. Raising the status of teachers is the first step towards promoting a culture of high expectations in the classroom. Such a step tells us and our children that we take education very seriously.

1 comment:

  1. Apparently the status of teachers is also high in Finland, a country that does very well in international student comparisons.

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