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Understanding the role of teacher qualifications in student achievement

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As the single most important in-school factor influencing student achievement, understanding the role of teacher quality is key to advocating for quality education for all. Yet, tracking teacher qualifications at the international level is difficult, as a wide-ranging set of indicators to measure and monitor its multiple dimensions is lacking.

Last week, on World Teachers' Day, the Teacher Task Force released a new policy brief: Qualified teachers urgently needed – What TIMSS data reveal about teacher training and student learning, which unpacks teacher qualifications through indicators such as teachers’ initial education, continuing professional development and cumulative experience from The Trends in International Mathematics and Sciences Study (TIMSS) 2019*.

Key findings

Initial teacher education:

  • A bachelor’s degree was the most common qualification for teachers in the study. However, teachers in higher-income countries have higher qualifications. In several European countries more than 90% of students had a teacher with a post-graduate degree, while in some middle-income countries more than one-third of students had teachers whom had only completed upper secondary education. 

Programme major and specialization:

  • Most teachers completed majors related to pedagogy. On average, this was the case for three quarters of grade 4 students in mathematics. However, this covers a wide range: 90% or more students in European countries compared to fewer than two-thirds of students in some developing countries.

Continuing professional development (CPD):

  • More grade 8 teachers than grade 4 teachers participated in CPD. Between 40% and 60% of students in grade 8 were taught by teachers participating in CPD compared to between 30% and 40% of students in grade 4.

Continuing professional development by type:

  • CPD that supports online and inclusive education was inadequate. 46% of grade 4 students in mathematics had teachers whom were recently trained on content while just 35% had teachers whom were trained on technology integration. Similarly, 59% of grade 8 students in science had teachers whom were trained on pedagogy while just 44% had teachers whom were trained to address individual needs.

Teachers’ previous experience:

  • Years of teaching experience varies substantially. On average, teachers had 17 years of experience in grade 4 and 16 years in grade 8. In some European countries 70% of students had teachers with 20 or more years of experience while in some middle-income countries about one-quarter of students were taught by teachers with 5 or fewer years.

Teacher qualifications and student learning:

  • In general, teachers with higher qualifications, more pedagogical training and more than 10 years of teaching experience were linked to higher learning achievement.

Policy Recommendations

While it is important to acknowledge the complexity of factors that influence student achievement, this policy brief offers the following general recommendations for policy-makers to strengthen teacher qualifications.

  1. Enhancing the quality of initial teacher education is crucial to improve teacher qualifications. Minimum standards for teachers should be increased to at least a bachelors’ degree or equivalent, while teacher training programmes should include training in pedagogy, specific subject-matter expertise, and other skills. Pre-service teachers’ training should also include practicum experiences led by experienced teachers to help them integrate theoretical knowledge into their teaching practice. 
  2. In-service teachers lacking formal training should be supported through frequent continuing professional development (CPD) interventions leading towards professionalization. They also require a rigorous induction period and continuous mentoring.
  3. While all teachers need more and better access to regular and equitable CPD interventions, COVID-19 related school closures underline teachers’ need for targeted training in technology integration to support remote teaching and in addressing individual needs to support inclusive education.
  4. Experienced teachers can play an essential leadership role in peer training, coaching, monitoring and contributing to formative evaluations of novice teachers. Incentives should be built into career paths to ensure teachers remain in the profession.
  5. It is critical to include the input of teachers and their representatives through social dialogue in defining their training and other professional needs.
  6. The new International Standard Classification of teacher training programmes (ISCED-T), which is being developed by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), will provide a new classification system for teacher education programmes to shed light on the teacher qualifications discussed in this policy brief. It will help to generate new indicators of teacher quality that can be used to measure and benchmark progress towards the achievement of the SDG4.c teacher-related target as well as for analysis in the achievement of the overall SDG4 target on education and other Sustainable Development Goals.

*The Trends in International Mathematics and Sciences Study (TIMSS), an international assessment of student achievement in mathematics and sciences, contributes to understanding teacher quality and its role in student achievement through a set of indicators that contextualize teacher qualifications within school environments. This new TTF policy brief is based on the latest TIMSS 2019 report, which gathered data about grade 4 and 8 mathematics and science teachers in 64 countries. The policy brief also examines the TIMSS student achievement data, comparing student learning across groups based on teacher qualifications in an attempt to establish relationships and draw conclusions about the complex role of teacher’s qualifications on learning.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com/Olga Kuzmina.