One of the main themes of the International Summit on the Teaching Profession was “How to attract the best academics into the teaching profession.” Many countries struggle with this issue and have developed ambitious programs like ‘Teach First’.
Other countries do not need these programs at all. Take Canada, for example. Ramona Jennex, Minister of Education of Novia Scotia and Chair of the Council of ministers of education, Canada (CMEC), the highest government representative on education in Canada, explains: “We do not have that problem in Canada, we have more teachers than we need and we do have the very best as well”.
“In Canada, we need more jobs to give all these wonderfully educated teachers a job. Not every Canadian teacher can find a job at home and therefore many Canadian teachers choose to teach in other countries like the US and the UK. They are much desired for their excellent quality”. You have Cuban doctors and Canadian teachers.
What is Canada’s secret? “First of all, in Canada it is rather hard to become a teacher. The procedure to become a teacher is very selective and built on two aspects, high grades and extracurricular activities”. The importance of extracurricular activities has increased over the years. In short, teachers need to have top marks and will get a very “rigorous evaluation interview”.
A selective profession
“We always ask if a student did volunteer, play an instrument or develop himself in another way. Extracurricular activities help to develop yourself and make you more fit to be a teacher”. This very selective policy that only allows the best, the brightest and the most determined to become a teacher, contributes to the social status of teachers in Canada.
The selection procedure is not the entire story; other aspects are equally important, such as a decent salary. Minister Jennex explains: “Teachers in Canada are appropriately compensated, they do not earn as much as doctors, but the salary isn’t bad”. Yet, while salaries are important, another aspect is even more vital, the very strong incentive to self-develop oneself as a teacher.
In Canada the profession takes the professionalization of teachers very seriously. During one’s career there are many extra degrees to be earned, leading to a better salary and more responsibilities as a teacher. Minister Jennex followed this career path herself. “After being a teacher myself for 30 years, I was finally topped-out”.
Let a good idea spread fast
Crucial to the success of these policies is the underlying system that enables the Canadian Provinces and Territories to learn from each other and facilitates the spread of best practices and good ideas. “We have a very large country, with no federal jurisdiction on education. This enables all the provinces and territories to govern their own education”.
Despite the lack of national jurisdiction, Canadian education has not become a patchwork of different policies. “In Canada we have Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC). In this council, which discusses policies and developments from primary education to universities, all Ministers of Education meet once a year.” The open dialogue between the ministers proves to be a very effective way to develop policy and implement successful examples from the different parts of the country.
Ramona Jennex experienced this herself: “As Minister of Education for Novia Scotia I developed an anti-bullying program called “Speak Up”. On the day it was presented other provinces started to implement the outcomes of this policy as well”.
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