Learning about teaching

Education ministers meeting “Raising the Quality of Learning for All” 18-19 March, Dublin, Ireland
OECD Observer

“The never-ending search for competitive advantage in the global knowledge economy has led all public policymakers to focus on education as a key factor in strengthening competitiveness, employment and social cohesion.” This was how Noel Dempsey, Ireland’s minister for education and science, summed up the importance of education at a lively meeting of OECD education ministers in Dublin in March.

There was broad agreement at the meeting that better monitoring of educational standards and a broader measurement of educational success were key to progress. But the question of how rustled up some debate. Standard-setting provided one area of contention. Does national testing serve more to narrow curricula than to promote progress?

Education is also a tool for building social cohesion. “Getting the balance right between the needs of the economy and the wider social aims of education systems is one of the most significant challenges facing education policymakers over the next 10 years,” Mr Dempsey noted.

But it was the question of teachers which perhaps aroused the most interest at the meeting. Teacher shortages are widespread, while an ageing workforce and a failure to attract the most qualified candidates to the profession, particularly in subjects like maths and science, continue to challenge policymakers. Solutions like flexible career paths to teaching, enhanced by lifelong learning for teachers, were discussed, as was how to improve conditions and support for new teachers.

Clearly, the image of teachers could use a boost. The ministers noted that it was often those who came into contact with teachers most who had the highest regard for them, and stressed the importance of strengthening school-community links.

©OECD Observer No 243, May 2004

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