How can teaching prestige be restored?

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Teaching has lost much prestige since the twentieth century. What can Latin American countries do to recover it?

Photo: Bigstock

Unfortunately, in many Latin American countries, the perception of the teaching profession is that of a poorly paid professional, who has no growth, and whose working conditions are far from the best.

According to the book Profesión: Profesor en América Latina ¿Por qué se perdió el prestigio docente y cómo recuperarlo? published by the Inter-American Development Bank, which deals with the lack of teacher prestige and how to recover it, several countries in the region are looking to transform both the perception and the profession itself, after the decline in quality suffered during the 20th century, by implementing different reforms and attracting more young talent.

Each country has different policies, emphasizing the different specific factors that each one needs to improve. However, they share one of the main problems in the trade: remuneration. More competitive salaries required to encourage young people to study this career.

One way to improve the remuneration structure is to consider the performance of teachers throughout their careers since advancing at a professional level influences how attractive a job is.

The salary structure: increases and modifications

It is essential to take into account that teachers are public servants; therefore, their increases affect the federal budget of each country. Such sensitivity may cause a lack of support from the government.

Also, sadly, the best teachers may be the most likely to leave the profession due to the discouragement of receiving the same pay as their colleagues with lower performance. This bad payment reflects that the current structure does not consider paying more to those who show to be more efficient.

The best way to increase the salary is gradually and hand in hand with the administrative staff of the ministries, leaders and government personnel. Doing so will improve the ability to plan the next fiscal budget in the face of changes in teachers' remuneration and their salary structure.

Coupled with this, by establishing a structure of increasing and flexible remuneration, along with experience, will help more efficient teachers to continue teaching classes and also attract new talent.

Luckily for the future teacher, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru are aiming to make the remuneration structure more flexible, currently subject to experience and higher levels. Between 2001 and 2016, Chile had a salary allocation system linked to the teacher's performance, but the accreditation was voluntary. Today, the program consists of 5 steps where it is mandatory to advance to the third; otherwise, if the teacher does not develop in six years, it can be disengaged from teaching. Currently, it is the only country in Latin America that demands this.

Colombia has a structure created in 2002, composed of three grades with four salary levels each. To get an increase, the teacher must pass an evaluation, at the same time you must do postgraduate studies, be it a master's degree or a doctorate, go up to the next level. Before 2002, there were 14 levels, and none was considered the teacher's performance as decisive.

The scheme of Ecuador started in 2011 and is similar, differs in that it has ten categories where the minimum time per level is four years, and to apply for the highest grades; it is necessary to obtain a master's degree. For its part, Mexico established, in 2015, an incentive program consisting of seven levels of rewards that increases between 24% and 222% of the teacher's basic salary.

Finally, in Peru, since 2012 teachers can significantly increase their salary at the same time as their career. The ladder consists of eight scales, where the last level is equivalent to an increase of 210% of the initial salary. Each stage has a minimum time of two to four years, and a Ph.D. is required to pass to the maximum degree.

 Photo: Bigstock

Photo: Bigstock

Better working conditions

Another cause of the loss of prestige of teaching is the lousy condition of work. Whether due to the infrastructure of the school, the area, the work environment, or other reasons, working conditions affect the perspective and quality of teaching.

Giving teachers access to better professional development and better conditions will not only help improve the perception of the career but also serve as support for teachers to teach in schools with a vulnerable population.

Access to more significant opportunities for professional development and better working conditions are also central factors in attracting teachers to schools whose population is in a vulnerable state. In Shanghai, China, teachers, and principals who want to advance must first work in schools with low student performance and contribute to the improvement of learning.

Having a lower student to teacher ratio can improve classroom interaction and the teacher's working condition. A study conducted in the United States revealed that 86% of teachers believe that decreasing the number of students is an effective method to improve the quality of teaching.

In Latin America, in the last decade, there has been a reduction in the rate of students. Between 2000 and 2013, for example, in Chile, it changed from 32 students to 20 and in Peru from 29 to 18. The educational systems could concentrate on improving the quality of the classes and the salary of the teachers if the decline maintains the same.

Another way to improve the work quality of teachers with non-school time. In countries with high educational performance, such as Japan or Canada, teachers dedicate between 30% and 40% to activities such as: collaborating with other teachers, interviews with students or their parents, or professional development programs.

In countries like Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru, they seek to regulate non-school time in their new reforms to match the states with the best performance. Chile, for example, introduced a weekly workday of a maximum of 44 hours in 2016, gradually increasing the non-school time from 25% to 35% by 2019. Besides, of that 35% of the non-school time, 40% must be allocated to the preparation and evaluation of class learning, as well as activities determined by the principal, as needed by each school.

Accreditation system

It is necessary to train trained and competent teachers through universities and accredited institutions to improve the prestige of teachers. These accreditations are government instruments to ensure the quality of FID.

Evaluation programs in Latin America tend to qualify factors such as curricula, infrastructure and the faulty system of universities and institutions instead of the necessary knowledge and skills that newly graduated teachers should have.

The only country in the region that values these skills in Chile, where the new teaching law, established in 2016, mentions that students must present two tests, at the beginning and end of their studies, to assess the knowledge of graduates and to certify to schools. Ecuador does something similar, although only the final evaluation applies.

To read the article about why the teaching prestige declined, click here.