Where are we going with Teachers?

The goal of educational systems is to promote the economic and social well-being of its student-citizens. Against this measure, the challenges of education systems are multiplicitous and vast, ranging from how to improve basic literacy rates to the innovation of design-based curriculum. This essay will focus on three specific challenges: teacher quality, access to vocational education, and equity. I believe the key to addressing these challenges is through the implementation of evidence-based policies.

At the core of education systems are teachers. Research shows that student achievement is strongly correlated to teacher preparation and pedagogical knowledge. High quality teachers are crucial for student learning in both early childhood education and in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects. Teachers need to be supported with high quality training, adequate compensation and continuous professional development. Policies that recruit and retain the best teachers would pave the way for innovative teaching.

Education’s relevance to today’s skills and jobs is mismatched. This is most evident in higher education, where student debt totals USD 1.3 trillion in the United States. While tertiary education is seen as a driver to economic mobility by strengthening people’s employment opportunities, seven million students are currently in default. The investment appears not to be realizing its returns. Policy makers must work to increase education’s relevance to new skills and jobs by supporting wider technical and vocational education and training opportunities. Not doing so is currently hindering positive social and economic outcomes.

Intra-country variance in educational equity is striking. Student outcomes are strongly correlated across variations in economic, social and economic status; wealthy white, students out perform their poorer, colored peers. This can be seen in the extreme attrition rates of teachers in poorer schools, often at 70% to 80% annually. Research clearly demonstrates retention of quality teachers is the single largest factor for improving student outcomes. Students of less affluent backgrounds and of color are being pushed to the margins of society. Educational equity must be addressed to ensure that educational investments provide ample opportunity for all students to succeed in an increasingly knowledge-based global society. 

The three challenges — teacher quality, access to vocational training, and equity — hinder people’s ability to build skills for better jobs and better lives. Education policy makers must view these challenges as levers than can strengthen people’s employability, social participation and inclusive economic growth for their country.