Interview with Sharon Tao, co-convenor for sub-theme on Enabling Teachers
What excites you about this theme?
There are many interesting topics and areas to explore regarding sustainable development and teachers, however I am particularly looking forward to stimulating reflection and action regarding the sustainability of professional development programmes for teachers. In my research and work, I have been conscious, critical and uncomfortable with the lack of meaningful sustainability and scalability of teacher development programmes, as well as other education and international development projects, more broadly.
There is usually a significant emphasis/pressure to see short-term results within a project cycle – and these results are impressive due to large amounts of human and material resource. However, I am concerned that these results are relatively short-lived because planning for sustainability and scalability beyond the life of a project (and project funding) is not often done beyond the assumption that ‘the teachers or the government will take it over’. That said, there are examples of programmes and research that understand the complex issues, challenges and ways forward for sustainable professional development for teachers, and I look forward to seeing these presentations and being part of these discussions.
What does the literature say?
There is a rich literature on teacher professional development that demonstrates how policy environments, school conditions, teachers’ beliefs/values and programme content/delivery interact in complex ways, and ‘research and development have taken cognisance of these factors and provided food for optimism about their effects, although not yet about their sustainability in time’ (Avalos, 2011: 10). Beatrice Avalos’ article, ‘Teacher Professional Development in Teaching and Teacher Education over Ten Years’, frames some of the complex issues and challenges that affect the fidelity and sustainability of teachers’ implementation of learning; and demonstrates how there is a dearth of literature on these issues within low-income countries (with the exception of important work by O’Sullivan (2002) about the Namibian context). Such contexts entail additional tensions regarding international development power dynamics, funding flows and differing educational beliefs, values and contexts, which should be further interrogated, particularly regarding how they affect the sustainability of teacher professional development programmes.
How does this link to the overall 2017 conference theme?
The education SDG places an emphasis on equity, quality and lifelong learning, and this year’s UKFIET conference will stimulate valuable debate on how these topics relate to what should be learned and taught, and how. Teachers play a central role in delivering any vision of an equitable and quality education; and if we want to ensure that this type of education is sustainable, then support to teachers must also be sustainable.
What kinds of papers would you like to see submitted for this theme?
As I’ve mentioned, there is only a small body of research that looks at issues of teacher development sustainability in low-income countries, particularly regarding sustainable policy/programme design, and sustainable teacher implementation/application. I would like to see empirical and theoretical contributions from researchers and practitioners about lessons learned and concrete ways forward that facilitate meaningful sustainability and scalability of teacher development programmes.
What do we still need to understand more about to make progress in the area of sustainable teacher professional development?
There needs to be greater understanding of the challenges and difficulties of designing and implementing scalable and sustainable teacher professional development programmes in low-income countries; as well as a greater insight into the nuance and complexity of potentially changing teacher practice/behaviour through professional development. If both of these strands could feed into and influence each other, great strides could be made towards supporting teachers to sustainably deliver an equitable and quality education for all.
Sharon is co-convening this session with Nalini Boodhoo who has also given an interview on Enabling Teachers