Society and communities
Teaching the teachers: improving education
Education enriches lives. It helps determine economic prosperity and social development and ensuring that quality education is accessible to all lies at the heart of ending inequality.
We also know that the quality of teaching has a profound impact on student outcomes. There is growing acceptance that pedagogical knowledge and mentoring of teachers has a positive influence on the learning of their students, yet there been little empirical evidence to back this up.
Much of my research in underpinned by the economics of development, so these questions are fascinating – ensuring that teacher training is not only highly effective but cost-efficient is particularly important for developing countries where inequalities may be greater and resources fewer.
Our findings have helped improve the quality of science and maths education in my native Argentina. The Ministry of Education adopted new teacher training programmes in these subjects, which also have the potential of being used in state schools across Latin America.
Throughout 2015, working with colleagues at the Universidad de San Andres, we carried out field analysis in schools in Buenos Aires, comparing the learning impact and cost-effectiveness of two different types of teaching methods. Coaching, which is more ad hoc and traditionally used in the country, is particularly beneficial for inexperienced teachers and high-performing students in difficult topics, whereas a structured curriculum approach tends to be superior for larger groups.
Our study was one of the first to analyse not only learning outcomes but the costs of each of the methods.
We collected information from students and teachers, as well as information about the schools, before and after the intervention. Students’ learning outcomes were also evaluated using a test designed by specialists in science education. More than 70 schools, with a total of 7,200 students, were involved.
"How to ensure teacher training is both high-quality and cost-effective are key questions for policy-makers."
We found that structured curriculum units worked equally as well as coaching, but at a much lower cost. Not only was a structured curricula were favoured by teachers - they reported enjoying teaching more, taught more hours and said students learned more and developed more skills - the method is also 70% per cent cheaper to deliver per pupil.
But we have also identified, when and for whom, coaching works particularly well. Additional coaching is particularly beneficial for inexperienced teachers with less than two years of teaching science. Coaching teachers also showed specific gains for girls, who both learned and declared to enjoy science lessons more. High-performing students especially benefited from both interventions, with students from coached teachers performing particularly well in harder questions. These findings allow for allocating coaching resources in a more efficient way.
The School of Education at the Universidad de San Andres has also adopted the new structured curricula as a teacher-training method. Ministers looked at applying the study’s findings beyond the training of science teachers, and, with a remit of training more than a million state school teachers, the potential impact is huge.
The implications of our research could also be far-reaching beyond Argentina. How to ensure teacher training is both high-quality and cost-effective are key questions for policy-makers and must be addressed if the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – including reducing inequalities, economic growth and quality education - are to be delivered.
We’ve attracted the attention of Unesco, who asked us to write a policy paper on how science is taught in Latin American countries, and the World Bank. It selected our paper for its policy research series, which supports open access to research and contributes to the debate on the links between education and sustainable development policies around the world.
Facundo Albornoz is Professor of Economics and Head of School, School of Economics