“Many European countries like Italy, Sweden or Germany suffer from a silo-sectored teacher labor market. It is very hard for teachers to get into the profession. The number of students is decreasing in many countries and at the same time there is little mobility in the teaching profession. That leads to this over-aged teaching force.”
“On the one hand you want experienced teachers, that is the positive side. But on the other hand you want to have a composition of teachers that reflects society and to which students can relate easily. You want that pupils can relate to older people, but also to younger teachers. That is a huge challenge in some European countries.”
The power of Teach First
What countries can be seen as an example?
“On the other end of this spectrum you find the United Kingdom, which has a rather young and mixed teaching labor force. It is also a quite dynamic labor market; you have organizations like Teach First that provide many young talented people to the teaching profession. Some of them stay in the profession a couple of years, others a lot longer. There is a higher degree of mobility than in other sectors of the labor market and that is a healthy picture of the teaching force.
Is the quality of teachers in the UK also higher than in other countries because of initiatives like Teach First?
“That is hard to judge. Linking the quality of teachers to the data that we have is not something that we can do easily. It’s best to look at the learning outcomes that are achieved. Then you see that European countries like Finland and the Netherlands are doing really well. But it is very hard to pinpoint the drivers of this quality.”
What should the European Union do to rejuvenate the teaching labor force? Otherwise, countries like Italy will not have enough teachers in 15 years.
“Absolutely, we need to prepare the ground for it now. We can predict these changes very well, we know how many children will go to school and how many teachers we need to teach these children. Now, it is most important to prepare the next generation of teachers, but we should also invest in the teaching force that exists today. If we don’t get more young teachers with new training, we need to bring the training to the schools and make sure that the existing labor force is up to speed with new technologies and new scientific developments.”
“We also need to keep in mind that the demand for graduates in technology is rising and it is therefore getting harder and harder for the education sector to recruit them into teaching. The life opportunities of science graduates are rising and not many young people choose these fields of study. It are though fields, you have to work hard and be good in school in subjects like science and mathematics. Not all pupils will be able to become successful in these fields.”
“Science is boring, science is terrible”
How can a career as a science teacher compete with a job at IBM or Google?
“We need to provide young people with better science education at school. We need to make science in school more interesting. It is not just a matter of doing more of the same; it is a matter of providing more relevant, more interesting science education that attracts more young people. We need to engage them.”
“One of the things our data shows is that when you ask primary school children what they think of science, they tell you that it is a wonderful subject. They really think it is interesting and love the different experiments. If you ask the same question to secondary students, they tell you ‘science is boring, science is terrible, it is all about mathematics’.”
“This shows us that we are not very good in making students see the life opportunities that lie in these subjects. That is a precondition for getting more people to pursue a career as a science teacher, if you don’t like science yourself, you don’t like being a science teacher.”
Teach less, but with greater depth
Does science education need to be revised to engage students more?
“There is a lot we can do to make science a more interesting and engaging subject. Science education needs to become more dynamic. Real-life experiments and indoor-science instructions should get a more prominent role in this kind of education. This way, students will hopefully relate more to the subject, so that they don’t longer study only for exams but because they find science fascinating. And with a bit of luck they see the chances a career in science offers.”
What is a good teacher in your opinion?
“A good teacher is one that you remember, even years later. Teachers that engaged you in the subject and made you see the relevance of the subject. A good teacher helps you to flourish, these qualities are very important for a teacher.”
Education at a Glance is a very data-driven research, and it is easy to analyze that you need higher salaries, or more teachers. At the International Summit on the Teaching profession it was concluded that teacher’s quality is one of the most important aspects that determine the quality of education. How could teacher’s quality become more important in the (political) educational discourse?
“Absolutely, that is the trick. It is about changing the nature of science instruction, maybe we should teach less, but with greater depth. That way we could create a deeper level of cognitive challenge and stimulate student engagement with scientific issues. In the end mathematics is not about formulas and equations, it is a language to understand the world. It helps you to make predictions and deal with uncertainty. It is a fundamental skill that will help people in the rest of their lifes.”