Who wins when teacher training is dumbed down?

Dinoo Kelleghan

Degraded teacher qualifications lead to weakened professional standing

Federation’s determination to raise teacher education standards was given heft by leading teacher education authority Professor Stephen Dinham, who at Annual Conference analysed the push against quality teacher training.

The causal chain was clear: degraded teacher qualifications led to weakened professional standing; reduced status led to the risk of exploitation by for-profit forces breaking into the learning sector and seeking a low-cost workforce.

“If schools are to operate as businesses they would be required to adopt the commercial strategies of cutting costs and/or increasing revenue, and the highest costs in schools are associated with labour,” said Professor Dinham, Director of Learning and Teaching and Chair of Teacher Education at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education.

Fewer, lesser qualified teachers were an “obvious means” of achieving the cost reductions sought by the for-profit providers who see this country adding to the billions of dollars they are making out of children’s education in 70 countries.

Professor Dinham told delegates the push to drive teacher education out of universities and into schools started in the 1980s in the US and in the 1990s in Britain, the countries from which successive conservative Australian governments drew their inspiration.

Now, in the US, one in five teachers is being trained in “alternative certification programs” and, it seems, the corporations’ needs have been met because standards are low.

“These [non-university] programs have very low admission standards, do not ensure that candidates are prepared to teach every subject to which they could be assigned, and provide insufficient support to candidates as they take on full-time teaching responsibilities,” Professor Dinham said, quoting a US National Council on Teacher Quality study.

In the UK, where 150 years ago governments had seen that an educated modern nation needed teachers with high-level training, 1990s Tories had decided to “within nine months” drive teacher training into schools and away from tertiary education.

On cue, in Australia, in 1992, the federal government brought out a policy document that claimed university teacher education was in a parlous state and needed to be shifted to schools. “In Australia, there has been, on average, one major state or national inquiry into teacher education every year for the past 30 years,” states Professor Dinham.

He noted that the Teach for Australia program being pushed by the Abbott Government, under which graduates from other fields would be placed in classrooms in six weeks, is part of the Teach for All global corporate-run program.

He held Germany up as an alternative model. There, some 90 per cent of schools are government schools and high-level teacher training is regarded as such an imperative that it takes seven years to be a teacher.

Federation supports the development of a five-year teaching degree with extensive, regulated and high-quality practicum experience. This reinforces the higher level of knowledge, skills and expertise required to be a proficient teacher in contemporary public education.

Professor Dinham described to conference how governments turned the tap of funding on and off to achieve their ends with teacher training. In the UK, the push to have teachers trained in schools saw funding to university education faculties reduced to a trickle with the result being that to survive many switched their focus to the cheaper output of educational policy rather than training teachers. Others are trying to play the government’s game by opening up their own schools and qualify for funding.