Launch of the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS)


Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at the launch of the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) in Mexico on 16 June 2009



Secretary of State, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure to be here with you to present the findings of the OECD’s new Teaching and Learning International Survey – TALIS. First of all I would like to commend the Mexican authorities for taking up the challenge and Mexico’s teachers for providing valuable insights into the teaching and learning situation in this country.

TALIS provides us with the first dataset on how educational policies are actually implemented, as seen through the eyes of those who are on the front line. The survey gives us an insight into the world of education, using a sample of some 90,000 teachers and school principals, representing over 2 million professionals in the 23 participating countries. The experiences and opinions of each of these educators form a key toolkit for improving our educational systems.

The quality of our teaching is the quality of our future. Our economies, our legal frameworks, our institutions, our nations … they all have their origin in the classroom. The quality of our policies determines the quality of our teaching, but also the other way around: the quality of our teaching will form the policy-makers of the future.

For a country like Mexico, which is working hard to improve its education and bring its young people's talent to the fore, it is essential to hear what the teachers themselves see as the  constraints and drivers of its teaching system. I am sure that TALIS will be very useful to you, Secretary Lujambio, and all the key decision-makers in Mexico's education system. Today we are delivering an exceptional tool to sharpen our vision and help turn your commitment and enthusiasm into better education for Mexico.

I would like to take this opportunity to talk a little about the survey's findings, and some of their implications in the Mexican setting.

1. The paramount challenge of teaching: a shared endeavour

The first thing that strikes us is the magnitude of the challenges facing the teaching profession in the 23 participating countries, where more than one teacher in three works in a school that has too few qualified staff. A shortage of suitable equipment and instructional support are other barriers hindering effective learning.

Negative aspects of teacher behaviour, such as absenteeism or lack of pedagogical preparation, compound this situation in some countries, and especially in Mexico. Teachers  themselves often feel insufficiently prepared to meet the challenges they face.  One in four teachers across the participating countries reports that at least 30% of learning time is lost through disruptive student behaviour or bureaucratic procedures.

Despite these challenges, a large proportion of teachers in most of the countries surveyed are satisfied with their jobs and believe they make a significant educational difference for their students. Teachers in countries such as Norway, Belgium and  Austria are in this group; while in countries such as Hungary and the Republic of Korea, teachers tend to be less optimistic about the effectiveness of their endeavours.

Many of these teachers are also investing in their professional development — an investment that goes hand in hand with a wider repertoire of pedagogic strategies deployed in the classroom.

2. Professional development of teachers: a key ingredient

TALIS highlights the importance of promoting better and more targeted professional development for teachers as a key lever for improving learning outcomes. In this regard, TALIS provides us with tools to achieve a better balance between costs and benefits, and a closer match between the supply of and demand for professional development programmes.

One-off education conferences and seminars still dominate the scene, and relatively few teachers participate in the kinds of professional development they see as having the largest impact on their work; namely certification programmes and individual and collaborative research. 

TALIS also shows there is still plenty of room for teachers to learn from their colleagues. At the present time, this practice occurs mostly as information exchange, rather than direct professional collaboration, which is more effective in enhancing students learning outcomes.

We also need to renew efforts to target professional development more precisely on teachers' individual needs. It is a cause for concern that, in Mexico, teachers with a Masters-level qualification receive almost twice as many days' professional development as those with less than a Bachelor’s degree. In other words, the least qualified teachers, who probably need professional development most, receive least of it.

TALIS also reveals the need for better support for effective teaching through appraisal and feedback.

3. Appraisal and feedback:  the path to better teaching

Teachers generally report that appraisal and feedback make a big difference in their work. In Mexico particularly, they place an emphasis on raising test scores in their teaching and improving classroom management practices. These areas happen to coincide with the greatest challenges facing the country.

The survey shows that the appraisal and feedback that teachers receive is mirrored in their self-confidence; and the more feedback they receive on specific aspects of their work, the more they trust in their abilities to meet their challenges. This is shown in the replies given by nearly half of all participating countries, with countries such as Brazil, Iceland and Poland reporting a large positive impact in cases where innovative appraisal and feedback practices were applied.

But TALIS also shows that 13% of teachers across countries receive no appraisal and feedback on their work whatsoever. This is particularly apparent in Ireland and Portugal, where over one-quarter of teachers said they received no appraisal and feedback, and in Italy and Spain where around half of teachers had none. Furthermore, roughly one-third of teachers across TALIS countries were working in schools that have had no external evaluation in the last five years.

It is equally worrying that three-quarters of teachers on average report that they would receive no recognition for improving the quality of their work or for being more innovative in their teaching. School evaluations and teacher appraisal also have little financial impact. TALIS results suggest that only about 10% of teacher appraisal and feedback is linked to some kind of monetary reward; and only 16% is linked to career advancement.

An appraisal system and career structure that targets and promotes innovation and effectiveness would do more to assist school improvement programmes and efforts to increase school effectiveness. Secretary Lujambio, I know you have made this a major focus of your reform. Again, the OECD is here to assist you and the Alianza por la Calidad Educativa in finding effective solutions. The data show that Mexico is not alone in facing these challenges, and that is why we intend to bring together the leading experiences from around the world in a special workshop to be held here in Mexico in just two weeks' time.

4. Effective school leadership: a revolution in management behaviour

A fourth lesson from TALIS suggests that effective school leadership plays a vital role in teachers’ working lives and development.

The recent revolution in the management behaviour and style of school principals has seen a shift from bureaucratic administration towards "leadership for learning". While TALIS makes that shift visible, it also shows that Mexico lags somewhat behind the international trend. We see too many school principals in Mexico who have limited training in pedagogical leadership and are accountable but not empowered.

I know that the Alianza is working to change that, and for a good reason: TALIS shows that schools with strong leaders use professional development effectively to address teachers' weaknesses. And there is often more collaboration between teachers in such schools, as well as better student-teacher relations, greater recognition for teachers applying innovative teaching practices and more emphasis on the developmental outcomes of teacher appraisals.

The hardest issue to grapple with is actually improving teaching practices; and this is also the most difficult to measure. Teachers can’t give what they don’t have; and research consistently shows that the only way to improve outcomes is through better training. Such training should result in clear expectations, a strong professional ethic, continuous improvement of classroom practice, and a recognition that ordinary students have extraordinary talents and that every child is expected to succeed.

TALIS shows that teachers generally know what counts, and that they share similar beliefs about how to teach. But the survey also suggests that teaching practices often fail to match these intentions. Teachers in most countries report using traditional practices much more often than student-oriented methods that involve adapting teaching to individual needs. And even less use is made of enhanced learning activities that require deeper cognitive activation of the students.

This brings us back to where we started, namely to the need to improve the quality and focus of professional development. Improving teaching practice is not just about building awareness of what teachers do, but also about the underlying mindset.

Teachers thus need to learn about best practice and to be motivated to make the necessary improvements. An effective work environment and material incentives are part of the solution, and I have spoken about these already. But the deeper change that is necessary can only occur when teachers have high expectations, a shared sense of purpose and, above all, a collective belief in their collective ability to make a difference in the education of their pupils.

While this initial survey shows that the challenges are tough, it also suggests that many teachers and school principals are ready to address them. Education systems can support them by shifting public and governmental concern away from merely controlling education resources and content, and focusing more on outcomes.  We need a decisive move towards universal high standards; but this does not mean uniformity of systems: on the contrary, we need to embrace diversity and individualised teaching and learning.  We also need to move from a bureaucratic approach in managing inputs towards effective school leadership that empowers teachers through support, targeted professional development, appraisal and feedback. 

In these exceptionally difficult circumstances, when our countries are facing the most severe crisis of our lifetime, we have a unique opportunity to address our structural challenges. Just imagine the potential for recovery and the strength of a highly educated Mexico with a cutting-edge teaching and learning environment; a Mexico that is a leader in science and technology, and a centre of innovation for a greener and more equitable growth model. The starting point for that potential new Mexico is in its teaching — in policies that give its teachers the chance to become what most of them want to be, namely promoters of qualitative change in the capacities of our children and young people. The OECD will continue to support Mexico in this major endeavour; and I am convinced that together we will make it possible.

Thank you very much.


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