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“Handling the COVID-19 crisis in education: What can TALIS 2018 tell us?”, by John Bangs.

The Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2018 was released on the 23rd March. For the first time the OECD’s Education and Skills Director Andreas Schleicher presented the report remotely because of the Covid 19 crisis. The OECD had rightly taken the tough decision to release its report now before things got worse despite the media’s saturation coverage of the crisis.

In normal circumstances TALIS would deserve a much higher profile. It is probably the most comprehensive, international study of teachers’ views ever published by an inter-governmental organisation. Collating all the data from both volumes of TALIS 2018, TALIS makes no less than forty-three recommendations covering every aspect of teacher policy. 

Yet Schleicher didn’t just focus on the report. His presentation and accompanying blog looked at the TALIS findings through the lens of current pandemic crisis. He believed that, far from being made out of date, TALIS’ policy recommendations represented a strategy for educational communities to both cope with the crisis and renew themselves. Schleicher said that this was not a time for despair. Teachers and policy makers had agency and only mindful behaviour could avoid a breakdown of our education systems. Highlighting the fact that the move to online education could actually accentuate student disadvantage, Schleicher argued that empowering teachers to innovate and to take control of their professional lives was the best way of narrowing the gap. Far from the pandemic making TALIS irrelevant, he said, it contained many pointers on how education systems could adapt- and the agency of that renewal is the teaching profession itself.

This is a step change for the OECD and highly significant. Like Education International and the OECD’s Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC), it is constructing proactive policies and advice on how to maintain education systems. Its approach is similar to EI’s and it is worth asking how. The most significant new passages in TALIS are proposals on how teachers can take control of their professional lives and be responsible for innovation through teacher leadership.

Part of that approach is a new section on the sources and levels of stress faced by teachers. That these findings exist at all is significant. Since 2015 EI has worked with the OECD on how to focus on teacher stress despite some countries’ doubt about whether such questions should be asked. They represent an important acknowledgement of EI’s concerns. Indeed, TALIS’ findings confirmed everything that teacher unions have told EI. The report revealed that only 9% of teachers reported that they suffered no stress while 18% reported experiencing a great deal of stress with high degrees of variation between countries.  

We believe in EI, as does the OECD, that there is an obvious connection between teacher leadership and removing teacher stress. A virtuous chain links self-confident teachers with high levels of self-efficacy and the removal of stress. Teachers who know that they can innovate to tackle pedagogical and social challenges do not face demands over which they have no control. At no time has this been more important than now. Innovating through distance learning cannot be directed from the top down. Autocratic forms of school leadership will only get in the way of teachers collaborating to explore the best ways of using technology.

What is obvious from TALIS is that if classroom teachers are given much greater voice and influence, not only in their teaching but in the running of schools and education systems themselves, it is much more likely that school communities will not be irrevocably damaged by Covid 19.

In short if education systems are to be renewed after the pandemic, then the agency of a confident, highly skilled and autonomous teaching profession is essential-as are the organisations which represent it. Indeed, significantly, TALIS acknowledges Education International’s and TUAC’s important role in developing and implementing TALIS and the role teacher unions can have in influencing government policies.

TALIS represents a highly important source of evidence for teachers, education support workers and policy makers. Education International’s own engagement with member organisations is creating an unparalleled bank of ideas and innovations which will contribute to protecting public education for all. Now is the time, more than ever, for global organisations and their members, to work together to make sure that education goes forward, not backwards, at a time of crisis.

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Note: TUAC is hosting a webinar on the 27th March with the OECD on the Covid 19 Crisis and Education Systems in which EI will be participating.


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John Bangs

John Bangs is Special Consultant at Education International and Chair of the Trade Union Advisory Committee’s Working Group on Education and Skills.

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