Here is a simple truth about education: improving the motivation and social status of teachers improves the quality of their teaching,1 which results in better students and a better society. While a decline in teachers’ prestige is a global phenomenon,2 the challenge is greatest in sub-Saharan Africa.3 Teachers’ status is determined by a variety of factors, including the faulty perception that teaching is a “profession of last resort” requiring minimal skills and training.4 Other factors include low salary, which is correlated with low prestige, and the extent to which local teachers perform at a global standard.
ICT Offers Access to a Global Quality Standard in Teaching
A cost-effective and high-impact strategy for addressing the skills gap is to leverage the power of ICT (information & communication technology) solutions. ICT can help remote teachers improve their subject and pedagogic knowledge and professional identity, contributing to both self-esteem and occupational prestige. Culturally appropriate curricula, best practices in teaching, pedagogic strategies, and subject matter details are now, in principle, globally accessible by any teacher anywhere in the world, given access to the appropriate technology.
I’ve personally found great value in using online and recorded resources to augment my own skills gap in statistics and computer programming, and have been able to access those resources in remote parts of the world. While not a panacea, I’ve found ICT to be a powerful tool for enhancing teacher capabilities in a diversity of subjects.
Teacher ICT competencies have been elucidated at the regional and global levels, having to do with curriculum development, assessment tools.3 Such competencies draw from the frontier of educational research, and seek to express best practices in everything from classroom management to ongoing teacher skills development4: abilities and strengths that are timeless and independent of technology.
The Digital Education Enhancement Project (DEEP) found that an array of ICT tools, including both the familiar technologies of radio and TV, and mobile computers and phones, effectively enhanced African teachers’ access to new subject knowledge and teaching strategies, and encouraged collaboration between teachers, which in turn elevated skills development and professional confidence.5 Subject matter knowledge was integrated in tandem with new pedagogic knowledge, a blending that would be significantly more difficult to achieve through non-technological means of professional development.
Teaching is a Profession, not a Job.
But how does this translate to occupational prestige? One participant in the DEEP project offered this insight: “I am now constantly finding things that extend my knowledge as a teacher – making me really grow professionally. There is change. In the past, for example, we did planning, but we have come to think differently now, learning is now challenging us and we are exploring more. This year we are going to do even better, as teachers we are really learning.”5
This sentiment is mirrored in other remote parts of the world, such as in this quote from a rural teacher in China whose skills were enhanced via ICT: “I now really understood the difference between teaching as a job and as a profession.”7
The transition from perceiving one’s role as simply fulfilling a job to one of engaging in an honoured profession is a profound metamorphosis, flavoured with pride, social responsibility. Professionals commit to a lifetime of continued learning and to filling a crucial role in society.
The path to heightened prestige begins with the realization that one is truly a professional, and not simply a worker. It continues with the adoption of the global standards of that profession, so that a teacher in rural Kenya is as well-trained as one in London or Stockholm. And it culminates with the appreciation of evidence showing a linkage between one’s professional standards and the accomplishments and qualities of the students who benefitted from those standards.
ICT is More Than Just Distance Learning
ICT is useful in to both pedagogy and professional development. But for servicing rural and remote learners, ICT is best appreciated by the layperson as a distance learning tool. In deference to Sustainable Development Goal #4, “To ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, distance learning can help achieve equity among both students and teachers. It promotes career advancement through the attainment of higher education qualifications.6 It can improve, however indirectly, the personal and professional conditions of teaching, in that it obviates the need for extended travel away from family, while simultaneously discouraging out-migration of students and teachers.
Can ICT Affect a Teacher’s Personal Sense of Self-Worth?
UNESCO has identified remuneration and the personal and professional conditions of teaching as targets for improving teachers’ social status.1 ICT, particularly through distance learning, affords opportunities in professional development at a global standard, while contributing to teachers’ sense of worth. Formal certification offered through distance learning is a prerequisite for career advancement, which can improve remuneration. ICT, both directly and indirectly, can elevate teachers in their own eyes, and in the eyes of their communities.
UNESCO’s findings aside, what factors do you think most contribute to teachers’ social prestige? Their salary, their professional status, their impact on their students, or is it something else? And can ICT affect teachers’ sense of efficacy in practice? How does that contribute ultimately to social prestige? These are questions that I encourage each of us to ask of ourselves as we explore ICT’s roles in addressing challenges in modern teaching, especially in remote and rural communities.
- 2015. Rapport mondial de suivi sur l’EPT 2015: Achievements and challenges. Paris: UNESCO.
- Symeonidis, V. 2015. The Status of Teachers and the Teaching Profession: A Study of Education Unions’ Perspectives. Education International.
- Hooker M, Mwiyera E, Verma A. 2011. ICT Competency Framework for Teachers (ICT-CFT) Contextualization and Piloting in Nigeria and Tanzania: Synthesis Report. A World Bank, Ministry of Educational and Vocational Training of Tanzania.National Commission of Colleges of Education of Nigeria and GESCI Initiative
- 2008. ICT Competency Standards for Teachers: Competency Standards Modules. UK: UNESCO
- Leach, J. 2005. Do new information and communication technologies have a role to play in achieving quality professional development for teachers in the global south? The Curriculum Journal. 16(3): 293-329.
- Bennell, P., & Akyeampong, K. 2007. Teacher motivation in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia (No. 71). London: DfID.
- Robinson, B. 2008. Using distance education and ICT to improve access, equity and the quality in rural teachers’ professional development in western China. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. 9(1).