The COVID-19 pandemic has caused drastic disruption to education systems around the world: more than 1.6 billion children have lost months of instructional time, more than 150 million have not had any kind of in-person learning in over a year, and many children are still not back in school today. The pandemic has challenged education systems to ensure learning continuity, and reopening efforts must focus on getting students back to school as quickly as possible, and urgently reversing significant learning losses.
There will be no education recovery without teachers. Even in ordinary times, the quality of teaching that students receive is the most important driver of learning within an educational system, and the importance of teachers goes far beyond students’ cognitive achievement: research also shows that successful teachers contribute to students’ non-cognitive learning and outcomes well beyond their schooling years. The current pandemic has only reinforced the importance of teachers. In the post-pandemic period, teachers will play the most critical role in the front lines in delivering the appropriate support so that students and schools can recover as quickly and effectively as possible.
The challenges brought on by COVID-19, in addition to the global learning crisis already underway before the disruptions, necessitate strengthening teachers’ capacities to teach well and meet the new and evolving challenges our classrooms, schools and systems face today. Teachers’ jobs, already complex pre-pandemic, will only grow more challenging. As students return to school, teachers will need to employ rapid-action learning assessments and tools to track learning losses. Teachers will need to develop targeted and sequenced remedial learning plans, and strategize how to deliver these alongside the current year’s curriculum and learning. Teachers will also need to provide important social and emotional support to students. And many teachers will need to deliver this support in innovative ways, blending in-person, remote, and hybrid approaches, as the health situation continues to evolve on the ground.
Providing teachers with high-quality professional development (PD) opportunities cannot be an afterthought or an add-on: it needs to be considered as an essential funding priority for the recovery period and beyond.
Even before the pandemic, many education systems were not providing teachers with PD opportunities to strengthen their teaching practice, and what was offered was often not aligned with best practice, ultimately not effectively supporting teachers in improving their classroom teaching, and not leading to improvements in student learning.
It is more important than ever in the recovery context that teachers not only receive PD opportunities, but that these be aligned with evidence-based principles of effective teacher PD so that they can strengthen their teaching skills, and build new skills to meet the evolving challenges on the ground. Effective in-service PD must be tailored to teachers’ needs, providing targeted support in the areas in which teachers need the most support. PD must also be practical, with active learning strategies that provide teachers with opportunities to practice new skills and receive feedback on them. It must be focused, selective and strategic in scope, with sufficient time and resources to adequately cover the content. Finally, PD must be ongoing, providing continuous support over a sustained period to ensure that new skills and knowledge are consolidated and internalized. The complexity of the new tasks that teachers will take on, the multiple demands placed on them, and the rapidly evolving context on the ground, only reinforce the importance of these principles as guidance posts in the design and development of high-quality PD to support teachers.
Ultimately, as countries around the world shift to re-opening and prepare for the difficult task of education recovery, it is teachers who will be in the front lines of this challenging effort. Ensuring adequate funding for high-quality and effective PD experiences for all teachers that support their development and success, must be a priority that goes hand-in-hand as we work on getting students and teachers back in classrooms. Ultimately, supporting teachers’ learning and capacity-building means supporting students and schools.
At the World Bank, this is the context that has motivated the development of our new program Coach. Coach aims to help countries improve and develop highly effective teacher PD systems and programs that leverage insights from the fields of adult learning and behavioral science. The Coach tools & resources have been designed to support countries along every stage of their journey in designing, implementing and evaluating high-quality and effective teacher professional development programs and systems, aligned with what we know works from research and the experience of the most successful programs in the field. Programs such as Coach that seek to build and strengthen teachers’ skills are more essential than ever to helping education systems meet today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.
The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this article do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO and the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The ideas and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors; they are not necessarily those of UNESCO and do not commit the Organization.
Photo credit: Dominic Chavez/World Bank