7 December 2021 0 A warm hello to everyone who has joined us in this regional teacher competency standards workshop. As previously mentioned, I am Michelle Belisle, Director of the Educational Quality and Assessment Programme of the Pacific Community. When I was asked to speak today, I wondered what I might add to the conversation as the expertise that the group gathered here today, from countries across the region far exceeds anything I might have to offer. I suppose what I can offer are some observations gleaned from my role as EQAP director and informed by my past experience as teacher, administrator, ministry official and teacher educator. I had also considered putting a PowerPoint presentation together but on reflection, I decided against that option in favour of simply speaking. TEACHERS play a vital role as key actors in instruction, creating an environment that is conducive to learning and is engaging and nurturing for all students. The professional skills and knowledge of teachers are shaped by their initial training and qualifications, and then throughout their career by professional development and experience. Teachers are an extremely important component of the education system; teacher salaries usually make up the biggest proportion of an education system budget and in many countries, teachers are often one of the largest groups in the public service. Within the ranks of teachers are people from different backgrounds, ages, levels of qualification and years of teaching experience. Teacher quality has been top-of-mind for governments, school leaders, parents and the public in terms of student outcomes for as long as there have been teachers and students. At a national level, every ministry and department of education is conscious of the importance of a competent and qualified teaching staff and that is evident in the priorities set in national education plans. Pacific Education leaders, through the Pacific Regional Education Framework have identified the Teaching Profession as one of the four key priority areas to focus on for the 12-year duration of PacREF. The PacREF recognises and promotes the contribution of regional agencies, including EQAP, and actively encourages the application of regional standards and South-South cooperation to reach the regionally agreed goal of competent, qualified and certified teachers and school leaders who are current in their professional knowledge and practice. To achieve this, collaboration and cooperation among national education systems and regional institutions is critical, and brings us together here today. But what are we talking about when we knowingly throw around terms like quality and competence when we discuss teaching? That is a question I am not sure any of us can answer. Just as is true in terms of student learning, if there were a magic formula that resulted in high quality, effective teachers, we and millions of other educators around the world in governments, teacher training institutions, teacher organizations and schools would not be having this discussion. I can make some observations though; about what decades of research and experience have taught us: Qualifications, including test scores or other measures alone don’t make a good teacher Training and developing good practices alone don’t make a good teacher Experience alone doesn’t make a good teacher Natural talent and personal characteristics alone don’t make a good teacher In my opinion, and it is only an opinion, teaching is part art, part science and can be as diverse as the teachers, students and contexts in which the teaching and learning occur. Thanks to the efforts of education statisticians around the region, we do have some idea about some of the factors that impact on quality of teaching. Let me share with you some information out of the 2020 Status of Pacific Education Report, that draws on data reported by countries to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, against key global indicators. Ideally, all teachers should be academically well-qualified in the subject(s) they are expected to teach. This indicator measures the share of the teaching workforce that is academically qualified according to national standards. It is important to note that national academic qualification requirements can vary between each country. The indicator is defined as the percentage of teachers who have at least the minimum academic qualifications required for teaching their subjects in primary and secondary education as determined by national education authorities. In many cases, trained primary teachers will have a recognised qualification in primary teaching that certifies that they are qualified to teach. At the secondary level, teachers may require a qualification in a subject area that they are required to teach. From our PILNA 2018 data, we discovered that almost half of the 38,000 students who participated in PILNA had teachers whose qualification was at the diploma level. We also found that almost 9 percent of students were being taught by teachers with only a high school certificate as a qualification. In terms of the indicator, the Percentage of qualified primary teachers as reported to UIS by 10 Pacific Island countries ranges from a high of 100% (four countries) to a low of 72%. Percentage of qualified secondary teachers as reported to UIS by 8 countries ranges from a high of 100% (four countries) to a low of 79% Trained teachers play a key role in ensuring the quality of education that is provided. Ideally, all teachers should receive adequate, appropriate and relevant pedagogical training in order to teach at the relevant level of education. This indicator measures the share of the teaching workforce that is pedagogically trained. This indicator is defined as the percentage of teachers in primary and secondary education who have received at least the minimum of organised pedagogical teacher training (preservice and in-service), which is required for teaching at the relevant level. Percentage of trained primary teachers as reported to UIS by 10 Pacific Island countries ranges from a high of 100% (three countries) to a low of 35%. Percentage of trained secondary teachers as reported to UIS by 8 countries ranges from a high of 100% (four countries) to a low of 21% But who decides what is important in terms of teacher competency? Multiple perspectives, all of which are important: Ministry/regulators wanting to show accountability to the public and the state as well as to donor and development partners who provide funding for education initiatives Education systems wanting to ensure high quality outcomes and experiences for students that lead to jobs, higher education opportunities, and ultimately develop the future community and national leaders and solid citizens Teacher training institutions with academic investment in producing high quality graduates that find employment wanting to ensure that their graduates are well-placed to start their careers and thrive in those roles over the long term Teachers knowing the reality of the classrooms and community environments in which they practice Parents and students wanting the best possible education experiences and outcomes All of these voices need to be heard in deciding what is important in terms of teacher competency. We also know that the teaching profession is autonomous within countries; acknowledging the unique contexts and needs of the diversity found across the Pacific. That might suggest that efforts to agree regionally on teacher competencies are an uphill climb at best but consider for a moment that diversity doesn’t mean an absence of similarities. I would like to point to something fairly common around the world as a simple example of what I mean. Virtually every country and even some states and provinces, have their own autonomously controlled driver licensing criteria. Even though rules of the road differ slightly as do local traffic laws, essential competencies remain constant – the operation of a vehicle, vehicle and road safety, responsibility as a driver, awareness of local hazards, road and weather conditions, physical skills to respond to unexpected events and so on. What this means is that with some specific knowledge of the local situation, a licensed driver can drive outside of his/her jurisdiction because the competencies of a qualified driver are broadly agreed. More relevant to education, the regional benchmarks in literacy and numeracy are another example of regionally agreed competencies. Autonomy in curriculum held by each country doesn’t preclude agreement about expectations of students in a broad sense. The regional benchmarks encompass common learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy and outline the knowledge, skills, understanding, values and capacities that Pacific students should have the opportunity to learn and develop in order to effectively participate in society. Each national curriculum is unique in terms of the expectations for students at each year level but from across those various curricula, the common expectations have been identified, agreed on and form the basis for our understanding of literacy and numeracy proficiency. So where does all of this leave us? I would suggest that this group of teachers, ministry officials, teacher education professionals and regional education experts is well placed to think about what we collectively understand as quality teaching. From that, efforts to articulate what that looks like, sounds like and feels like in the classroom, school, community and ministry will bring us closer to a set of defined regional teacher competencies that can form the basis for national competencies and expectations of teachers. Thank you for your attention and I wish everyone good sessions of provocative discussion over the coming days.