Will teacher licensing improve quality of teachers in the UAE?

The diverse education scenario in the UAE presents unique challenges in each segment- premium, mid-market and budget schools

For budget schools, there is no global talent pool to source from. Teachers from native countries mostly, India, Pakistan, Philippines do not possess the skills that 21st century education demands

Effective policy has needs to articulate clear goals for teacher education and skill development

Merely copying policies from high performing countries will not suffice. More needs to be done to address local challenges

The teacher licensing system being piloted in the UAE and possibility of it being made mandatory in the near future raises several immediate questions. The most important question is – what is the objective?

The policy’s origins are probably linked to the the UAE National agenda and its education vision of being one of the best education systems globally, as measured by international benchmarking tests.  Quoting from What makes a good teacher? Do certifications and standards matter?

Teacher Licensing

Usually , governments try to do this [improve teacher quality and hence test scores] by passing laws that list more requirements for teachers to get their teaching certificate or license. Often they look for models in countries that score well on international achievement tests like Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) or Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) such as Finland, Singapore or South Korea.

It is true that a teacher’s qualifications, experience, personality and instructional skills all play a role in contributing to “quality.” Teacher quality covers what teachers do outside the classroom: how responsive they are to parents and how much time they put into planning lessons or grading papers. Teaching certificates can make a difference toward ensuring teacher quality. But that does not make for an effective policy.

And here’s the problem: One, merely focusing on standards like certification is not enough. Two, the effect can vary – so borrowing models from other countries is not the best strategy.

It may not be a wrong move, but from a policy standpoint, the critical question to ask would be: what are the key issues to be addressed to raise teacher quality in the UAE? This is something there is already a broad consensus on

  • In rich schools, the constraint is not the intention to attract quality teachers but a shortage of skilled internationally qualified teachers, due to global mobility dynamics (and not just UK trained teachers as is widely publicized)
  • In budget schools, the issue is the need for better pay to attract talented teachers and yet remain economically viable (read  here on pay disparity  and here on 73% teachers surveyed, looking for new jobs)
  • Manageable workloads and structured opportunities for professional development, rather than just filtering and creating a vacuum that is not easy to fill.

Our opinion is that teacher quality (which is a problem more in budget schools) entails much more than weeding out low skilled teachers through a national test. Teacher quality is strongly affected by a teacher’s working conditions. Teachers working long hours, with low pay, in crowded schools cannot give each individual student the attention they need.

The short term effect of teacher licensing will probably be similar to what we see today for Arabic teachers in the UAE, who need a test and ministry approval – low commitment and loyalty, with constant jumping of ship for higher pay and hence no real motivation to build better skills.

Apart from a test based licensing, effective teacher policy has to have at least three levels: It must provide clear goals for teacher education and skill development, it must provide “support to local institutions for the education of teachers” and it must address national demands for high quality education, in the local context.

Simply raising the requirements for teacher certification, based on what has worked in some high-performing countries, is not effective. An effective policy requires changes at the level of teacher recruitment, teacher education and long-term support for professional development. Quality is more than certification. Around the world, more than a dozen nations have recently engaged in efforts to rapidly reform their teacher education and certification systems. The United States, along with nations as diverse as France, India, Japan and Mexico, has sought to improve its educational system by reforming teacher certification or teacher education.

In the U.S., for example, a key part of the important legislation No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was to put a “qualified teacher” in every classroom. The law emphasized certification, a college degree and content specialization, but failed to identify teachers who knew how to implement reforms and who promoted critical thinking skills in their classrooms. However, the most recent law addressing teacher quality, the Every Student Succeeds Act, had to roll back these requirements allowing each state in the U.S. to experiment with different ways to identify quality teaching.

Even in wealthy nations, sometimes the most qualified teachers are concentrated at certain schools. For example, in the U.S. there is a very unequal distribution of teachers between high- and low-income school districts. Scholar Linda Darling-Hammond sees this unequal access to teachers as one of the greatest challenges facing the U.S.  The fact is that teaching is complex work. Teachers must build trust, increase motivation, research new methods of teaching, engage parents or caregivers and be adept at the social engineering of the classroom so that learning is not disrupted.

In order to develop teacher quality, the UAE needs to do far more that “borrow” policies from high-scoring nations. Nations can learn from one another, but this requires a systematic exchange of information about sets of policies, not just identifying one promising approach. A more open and wider dialogue with all stakeholders, especially the mid and low cost operators, not just the rich and premium schools. Also,  To be effective, reforms need to have the support and input of teachers themselves. And, national and global leaders need to create more ways for teachers to provide suggestions, or criticism, of proposed reforms, which will help us achieve the UAE national vision in a systemic and sustainable manner.

Design thinking for educators | Teaching License | Teacher Quality | Teacher Certification | Teaching Certificate | Teacher Licensing

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