A new generation of Georgian teachers may soon find fewer stumbling blocks on their way to the classroom. To obtain the right to teach, those with higher education will no longer be required to have a minimum of one-year relevant work experience or to serve teaching internships. That change advocated by the Ministry of Education is envisaged in a draft amendment to the Law of Georgia on General Education. According to the Ministry, prior experience and internships are no longer necessary because the teacher certification exam is sufficient to test the knowledge and skills of teachers. Although those specific requirements of the Teacher Induction Program implemented in 2010 will no longer be compulsory, the Program itself will not be abolished. Under the Program, new teachers will continue to be mentored by experienced teachers throughout a probationary period.
The removal of barriers for aspiring teachers is a welcome development. However, the Ministry’s rationale is problematic. Its mandatory teacher certification – a process which every teacher must undergo until the end of 2014 to obtain the right to teach at public and private schools – is a useless regulation. That certification not only does not upgrade the qualification of teachers, it may even be an impediment to their development. Minimum competence and a basic knowledge of teaching methods are no guarantees of good pedagogy. Standardized testing of teachers’ professional skills and knowledge in their given subjects may well lead to standardized methodologies and standard pedagogues.
A number of surveys have failed to establish any correlation between teacher certification and student performance. Students of both certified and non-certified teachers often produce similar results. Stanford University Professor Eric Hanushek has compiled the results of some one hundred-and-seventy-one such surveys and has concluded that fully one hundred and fifty-seven of them show no significant link between teacher certification and concrete results, including student performance. The key determining factor identified in those surveys is practical teaching skill - not teacher status. Conversely, a much weaker link has been shown to exist between teacher results and teacher experience. Scientific degrees also have negligible effect on teacher results.
Naturally, teacher knowledge and skills are crucial elements of good teaching. Yet, neither element is tested or ensured through the certification process. The best domain for teachers is practical work and the best evaluator is the employer (school), not a centralized body or standardized exam.
To improve the professionalism of Georgian teachers, a competitive and free educational environment needs to be created. Instead, the Ministry of Education seems intent on maintaining tight control of the schools. The Ministry, for example, has established its own standards for hiring teachers at public schools and for approving their salaries – to name just two of its recently introduced regulations. By its actions, the Ministry fails to recognize that the more liberated the schools become, say, in hiring and firing teachers, the more they would be incentivized to attract and to retain highly qualified teachers. Liberating schools would also help to improve working conditions for teachers, which, in turn, would draw more professionals to the education sector. Viewed in this light, certification seems little more than a needless barrier for many qualified aspiring teachers. For their part, both aspiring and practicing teachers would have greater motivation to excel in a freer environment.
This article first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue # 89, published 27 February 2012.