Benito Vacio

The key to student achievement

It's all about quality teacher training

Thomas Friedman's, Bangkok Post column dated October 28, 2013 revealed China's public secondary schools topped the world charts in the 2009 PISA (Program for International Students Assessment) exams that measure the ability of 15-year olds in 65 countries to apply their knowledge in Math, Science and Reading.

Amazed by Chinese students' achievements, Friedman interviewed Shanghai teachers. The interview revealed China's students' success was attributed to deep commitment to teacher training, peer-to peer learning, and constant professional development, a deep involvement with parents in their children's learning, an insistence by the school's leadership on the highest standards and culture that prizes education and respect teachers."

This was affirmed by Grace Shangkuan Koo who wrote an article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer highlighting the role of faculty development in the 4 Asian countries that topped the PISA on 2013.

She wrote, "China is top in Asia because teachers there have to participate in 360 hours of professional development each year. Repeat-360 hours! Also, cooperative consortiums are set up for the best schools to help out the poorer ones, and to capitalize on the strengths of the best teachers. Underperforming teachers are pulled out from classrooms for a year of retraining. In fact, teachers need to go through teacher certification every five years. Those who fail in their performances have to undergo full-time training, like the pre-service teachers.

In Singapore, only the top one-third of the graduating class in college can consider taking up an education degree and only one of eight candidates is accepted in the teaching profession. Teachers there are required to train for 240 hours.

In Japan, underperforming teachers are pulled out from classrooms for a year of retraining.

Of the many reasons mentioned above, I would like to stress the importance of the first and the third reasons - commitment to teacher training and constant professional development. These reasons remind me of a certain school year back in the Philippines. This particular school ranked number 3 in Metro Manila in the National Elementary Achievement Test in a specific year and the succeeding year it ranked number 1 again out of nearly 300 schools.

As a new faculty of the school, I was surprised why the students were so good. I soon found out that good school facilities, good administrators, and very good teachers contributed a lot but the one factor that contributed most was the school owner's commitment to hiring the best teachers and providing regular in-service trainings. With the school's tie-up with 2 other schools in the city, it tripled its degree of faculty development because when one school held seminars/workshops for its teachers, the administrators of the other two schools would suspend classes and require their faculty to attend the professional development sessions as well. So you could imagine the number of meetings the teachers would have for their in-service training.

When I worked in a refugee camp in Bataan, faculty development was also intensive for all the teachers there. Before the mentors were assigned for work, they had to undergo a month-long training session to learn about the program, the strategies, and teaching methodologies. When they were in the field, team meetings were scheduled every week wherein professional development was part of the agenda.

Besides that, supervisors observed teachers every month and feedback in post conferences would follow. As part of the job description, teachers would always have a one-on-one meeting with the supervisor. Other than these, a lot of conferences were held in the camp to enhance teacher development. In fact, free masteral degree in education was offered for interested teachers. No wonder our students even in the zero level proficiency group ages 18-55 could communicate in English after just three months.

In our project here in Thailand, we have two seminars a year; one in the first term and the other in the second term. I don't think this is enough. Ideally, the seminars should be at least quarterly. When seminars are held, they must also be done during schooldays. One may say it will affect the students but it is not the number of days the students study but the quality of time they spend in school with their teachers. A fully-equipped teacher with better ideas and better strategies from authoritative speakers means teaching can always be improved.

Of course there are also teachers who are dedicated to their profession. They go out of their way to come up with new ideas they have gathered from readings, observations, or from colleagues. What else do teachers talk about when they are with our colleagues but students and school matters?

When seminars /workshops are conducted, they should be truly relevant to the teachers' needs. During the seminars I attend, my fellow teachers always complain, "It's the same thing, they should have given us the things we really need, the things they give us are not applicable to our classes." Months before the seminar, they should have gathered input from teachers what they needed or what they wanted to learn. Involving the teachers in determining what they want to learn will make the teachers more attentive in the seminar, more participative and more willing to share.

So, in order that students achieve and succeed in their studies, school owners, private or public, should consider faculty development as one area to give importance to. Good schools develop good teachers. Good teachers mean good students. Good student performances reflect good faculty


Sam, what an encouraging comment from you. Thanks. Because of your comments, we are inspired to share our thoughts to you.

By Benito Vacio, Nonthaburi (19th February 2014)

Benito, I couldn't agree more, especially on two matters: 1) that teachers such as myself could certainly benefit from ongoing professional development , and 2) that in order for for teachers to benefit, the development program must be well planned and applicable.

Both in the realm of education and otherwise, I have attended seminars and other training exercises that have had a great potential, but are either ill-planned (i.e., I could have done the same thing in an hour on my own that the seminar took all day to do), or are completely irrelevant to my needs. I would certainly be interested to speak with those teachers in China with the enormous professional development commitment; while I love the idea of continuing training in any field, it has been my experience that these sessions are largely a waste of my time. I'm happy to hear that, at least in the case of the article you spoke of, I am wrong!

Great article.

By Sam, Chatuchak, Bangkok (9th February 2014)

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