The Struggle for Teacher Education
The Struggle for Teacher Education

Tom Are Trippestad

Tom Are Trippestad is Professor of Education at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (HVL), Norway. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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, Anja Swennen

Anja Swennen is Researcher at VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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and Tobias Werler

Tobias Werler is Professor of Education at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences (HVL), Norway. Author affiliation details are correct at time of print publication.

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Bloomsbury Academic, 2017


Content Type:

Book chapter

Related Content

Teacher Education in South America: A Problem or a Solution? [1]

DOI: 10.5040/9781474285568.0014
Page Range: 147–167


Teacher education has been signalled out as a key influence in the improvement of educational opportunities and results in international education policy documents and extensively cited reports on teacher quality (EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/2014; Barber and Mourshed 2007; OECD 2004). However, just as teacher education is seen as a key factor for educational quality, it is also viewed as an impediment due to perceived weaknesses in its institutional forms and processes. In this respect, most of the teacher education provisions of the Latin American countries have been subject to long-standing critique regarding their effectiveness in preparing competent teachers and contributing to education quality. More recently, an analysis of teacher education in seven countries in the Latin American and Caribbean Region carried out by the UNESCO Regional Office (OREALC/UNESCO 2014a) highlighted the following as key persistent ‘critical’ areas in need of attention: (a) low scholastic entry levels of teacher candidates; (b) weaknesses in teacher education curricula and preparation processes; (c) inadequate teacher educator capacity; (d) insufficient relevance for different and disadvantaged populations; (e) tensions between practical versus academic emphases in its processes and (f) insufficient regulation over teacher education institutions. Before and after this assessment several countries in the region have undertaken reviews of their teacher and teacher education policies and supported various forms of change or innovation (UNESCO/OREALC 2014a). These may have had an effect on improvement in the quality of new teachers and on student learning, but as yet there is not much solid evidence for this.

This chapter will use the case of six South American countries to examine the extent to which the problem areas noted above apply to their teacher education programmes and in what ways these countries may be attempting to improve on them, either by macro or by micro reform policies. The countries considered are Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú and Uruguay all of which share Hispanic culture and Spanish as their common main language, but differ in their income levels, proportion of the population with indigenous origins and languages, characteristics of their education systems and learning results as measured by the Latin American Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study known as TERCE (OREALC/UNESCO 2015a,b) and by the OECD-conducted PISA 2011 test (OECD 2012) in which five of the six countries participated. The selected countries serve to illustrate forms of teacher education institutionalization ranging from mostly privately administration to mostly public institutions, as well as variations in the way in which they are attempting to reform its provisions.

The main question that guides this chapter is the extent to which teacher education continues to be seen as a key problem for the improvement of education results and quality or the extent to which it may be moving towards improvement and thus offering a solution for inadequate learning results in the education system of the selected countries.

In what follows, the chapter begins by presenting some facts about the countries studied and their educational systems, including teacher education and what can be deduced in the light of existing data about its impact on school learning. The main section looks at the problem areas discussed in the OREALC/UNESCO (2014a) review and how they are being addressed in each of the countries: institutional characteristics of teacher education programmes, quality of intake, teacher education processes (curriculum) and quality assurance mechanisms in place and the extent to which these are standards-based and externally rather than internally conducted. The final section discusses whether the improvements described foreshadow solutions or are closer to encompassing new problems.

National educational contexts and school achievement

The six chosen countries are similar as well as different in several ways in terms of their educational contexts. Table 8.1 provides descriptive information on the economy, population and proportion of indigenous groups, equity, net pre-primary and primary enrolment, gross secondary enrolment and educational expenditure in relation to income.

Table 8.1. Characteristics of countries studied

  ArgentinaChile Colombia EcuadorPerú Uruguay
Population (millions)43184816313
GDP per capita (2014)*12,50914,5287,9046,3466,54116,807
% indigenous population2.4 (2010)11 (2012)3.4 (2010)7 (2010)24 (2010)2.4 (2011)
Gini coefficient (2010)0.440.520.550.490.460.45
Net enrolment       
a. Pre-primary9893869796100
b. Primary (2012)      
Gross enrolment1149810196100110
(%) 2012708576777471
c. Lower secondary      
d. Upper secondary      
Annual education expenditure as % of government expenditure15.09 19.0715.86 10.3516.2414.93

*Current US$, http://data.worldbank.org/indicator.

As shown in the table, the countries vary significantly in terms of population and proportion of indigenous people. Colombia, Argentina and Perú have the biggest populations, as opposed to Uruguay with only 3 million people, while Perú has the largest number of indigenous groups. There are important differences in income per capita, with Argentina, Chile and Uruguay having the highest income per capita among the six countries. They are also countries with high levels of inequality as per their Gini coefficients, especially Chile and Colombia. All countries have full enrolment in primary and lower secondary education but less so in initial and upper secondary levels. The six countries also differ in their expenditure on education, with Chile spending the highest proportion of its national budget and Ecuador the lowest.

In terms of the education system organization, Argentina has a federal system in which education and teacher education is managed at provincial level. All the other five countries have unitary systems with strong central governments that define and broadly manage the education and teacher education systems, although they have or are increasingly devolving school management to decentralized authorities (for example, to municipalities in Chile since the 1980s and in Colombia since the 1990s). The target countries differ in the public/private ratio of ownership and management of schools as well as of teacher education institutions. Thus, Chile funds both public and privately owned and managed schools and an important proportion of future teachers are prepared in private universities. On the opposite side stands Uruguay with a largely publicly funded and centrally managed education and teacher education system. Perú and Colombia have an equal share of public/private provisions of schooling and of teacher education, while Ecuador is engaged in a strong movement to reinstate the quality and coverage of public education versus increasing privatization and to decentralize the management of the system and schools.

All the countries discussed with the exception of Ecuador[1] participated in the PISA 2012 international examination centred on students aged fifteen, and all participated in the applications of the Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Studies known as TERCE 2013, which was conducted by the Latin American Regional Office of UNESCO for third and sixth grade students. As far as PISA results are concerned, the five participant countries performed below the OECD mean (see Table 8.2), but the better performers on all three tests (mathematics, reading and science) were Chile and Uruguay. Compared to PISA 2009, Uruguay lowered its performance on all tests, while Chile did not vary significantly.

Table 8.2. Mean scores in PISA 2012 of participating countries

OECD mean494496501

Source: OECD PISA 2012 Results.

The TERCE evaluation covers language (reading), mathematics and also science, although not every country took this test. As shown in Figure 8.1, all countries with the exception of Ecuador performed above or on the TERCE regional mean on the third- and sixth-grade reading tests.

Figure 8.1 Performance in the TERCE evaluation, third- and sixth-grade reading Source: OREALC/UNESCO (2015a)

In the mathematics test, Colombia and Ecuador performed around the regional mean in sixth grade. Chile and Uruguay, in turn, clearly were the better performers, as shown in Figure 8.2.

Figure 8.2 Performance in TERCE evaluation, third- and sixth-grade mathematics

Besides data on student learning achievement, the TERCE evaluation includes information on teachers and their teacher education opportunities, based on a questionnaire administered to those in charge of the target student groups examined. Some of the relevant facts are presented below.

Teachers and their preparation: Evidence from the TERCE study (OREALC/UNESCO, 2015b)

Teachers in the Latin American countries are mostly female (around 80 per cent), of middle-low to low socio-economic background, and a large proportion come from families where they are the first to have access to tertiary education (Bruns and Luque 2014). All teachers in the selected countries should have been prepared in tertiary and/or university-level institutions, requiring for entry a successful completion of upper secondary education. However, as reported in the TERCE teacher questionnaire, in several of the target countries a proportion of practising primary teachers had only primary education (3.4 per cent) or only secondary education (2.4 per cent).

As shown in Figure 8.3, and consistent with the characteristics of their teacher education systems, teachers in Colombia reported having mostly a university-based teacher education, while those in Argentina and Uruguay attended non-university tertiary institutions. In the other countries teachers had either a predominantly university-based preparation as in Ecuador or predominantly non-university as in Perú. As for being certified according to country requirements, there was a higher proportion of non-certified teachers in Perú (9.5 per cent), Colombia (11.5 per cent) and Ecuador (15.5 per cent) compared to teachers in the other countries.

Figure 8.3 Type of teacher preparation institutions attended by TERCE teachers

The TERCE study included three questions that provide some indication of the quality of the teacher education experiences to which the participating teachers had access: face-to-face versus distance mode, length of teacher education studies and exposure to practical experiences.

Over 40 per cent of the teachers in Colombia and Ecuador who responded to the questionnaire stated that they had been prepared in distance or semi-distance programmes and 23 per cent in Perú had the same experience. This could be taken as a factor against quality judging from the experience in Chile where such programmes were discontinued due to the inadequate conditions in which they were offered (Ávalos 2015). Length of studies seemed to vary by country and within countries. Thus, almost all primary teachers in Perú (92 per cent) had three or more years of teacher preparation, as did also 58.3 per cent of teachers in Uruguay. On the other hand, a majority of teachers in Argentina (76.3 per cent) and 37.3 of Uruguayan teachers had been prepared in shorter two- to three-year programmes.

Teachers were asked about the duration of their fieldwork or practicum experiences. In this respect almost all Uruguayan teachers had more than a year of practicum, followed by teachers in Perú. In the other countries, teachers reported a varying amount of time dedicated to fieldwork ranging from half a year to a year, with a small proportion in Perú, Ecuador, Colombia and Chile indicating no experiences of this type at all. Responses are shown in Figure 8.4.

Figure 8.4 Teacher reports on opportunity for fieldwork or practicum experiences during initial teacher education (% of teachers). Source: OREALC/UNESCO (2015b)

The TERCE study also inquired about teacher opportunities for continuing professional development and learning once they were posted in schools. As shown in Table 8.3, while most teachers had opportunity for general professional development, there was less opportunity for some to participate in subject-specific activities, especially for those focused in mathematics teaching. On the other hand, almost 60 per cent of teachers in Argentina and around 50 per cent in Chile and Colombia declared to never having received support or being supervised by another teacher.

Table 8.3. Teacher participation in a continuous professional development activity over their last two years of experience (% indicating participation)

 In generalFocus in LanguageFocus in Mathematics

Source: UNESCO/OREALC (2015b).

While it is not possible to assess directly the impact of teacher preparation experiences on student results in the international tests referred to here, there are some factors that stand out as possibly relevant from teacher descriptions in the TERCE questionnaire regarding their preparation. These include the effect of having a university versus non-university preparation, duration of teacher preparation studies, length of fieldwork or practicum experiences as well as the main teacher education delivery form (face-to-face or distance mode).

A comparison of the teacher education programmes of Chile and Uruguay, the two countries with better performance in PISA and TERCE, shows that the countries are quite different. Chile prepares their teachers largely at universities in four or more years, while Uruguay does so at tertiary-level teacher training institutions for three years. Also, Uruguayan teachers spend more than a year in practicum experiences compared to just over a third of Chilean teachers. The only common feature found in both systems seems to be that most of the teachers surveyed attended face-to-face teacher education programmes. On the other hand, 40 per cent of teachers in Ecuador and Colombia whose students were among the lowest performers in the TERCE mathematics tests had attended distance teacher education programmes. Teachers in these two countries had also experienced variable amounts of practical experiences ranging from including none to more than a year (see Figure 8.4).

Thus, we may conclude that a key factor in the relationship between teacher education and learning results of the target countries may be the nature of the programme itself (face-to-face versus distance modes) and sufficiently long opportunities for practicum experiences. These facts may be important, although not sufficient, in considering where the focus of improvement needs to be in order to move teacher education away from being a problem and towards being a solution for improved student learning. In what follows, we examine more closely what are considered to be critical aspects in the teacher education systems of the target countries.

Critical situations recognized as problem areas in the selected countries

At policy discussion level, in all of the selected countries there is a strong sense that teacher education is not providing the kind of teachers needed. The problem areas detected are in line with the consensus about what defines a sound teacher education system: its institutional basis and quality of intake, its teacher educators, curriculum and practicum experiences and what is known as quality assurance mechanisms. We consider here how these areas are taken to be problematic in the selected countries and how these problems are being addressed in the recent change scenarios of each education system.

Institutionalization of teacher education programmes

The distinctive character of teacher education institutions in the target countries as well as throughout Latin America is the degree to which they are university or non-university based, and public or privately owned and managed. As noted earlier, there are three main types of teacher education systems: (a) predominantly university ones as in the case of Chile and Colombia, (b) mixed systems with university provisions prevailing over tertiary ones (Ecuador) or with tertiary institutions prevailing over university ones (Perú) and (c) predominantly non-university as in Argentina and Uruguay. Leaving aside the case of these two countries to which we will return later, in the others the tendency has been to regard non-university provisions as problematic in terms of quality and as not appropriate to the preparation of teachers as professionals. Thus, Chile has recently passed a law[2] that requires all teacher education to be offered by universities. The government of Ecuador has moved towards a university-based teacher education system closing non-functional tertiary institutions and establishing a national pedagogic university, which will gradually incorporate existing teacher education tertiary institutions (Bruns and Luque 2014). In Colombia the decision to have a predominantly university-based teacher education system was endorsed in the 1994 General Law of Education.

Argentina and Uruguay are the only countries that have not modified their teacher education structure. According to Rivas (2015), Argentina has maintained a dysfunctional system of 1,260 teacher education institutes managed at provincial level, while there are 61 universities that have some teacher education preparation. Conditions in the provincial institutions are very different in that some are quite small and located in less populous towns of the country. Uruguay, in turn, prepares all of its teachers at tertiary-level teacher training institutes and contrary to Argentina these are regulated and managed under a National System of Teacher Education. There are signs, however, of wanting to move teacher education institutions towards a closer link with the university system. Thus, in recent years, the government prepared for the establishment of a national pedagogic university that would serve as a coordinating body for teacher education, but its establishment has been recently postponed (2015). Also with the intention of improving the preparation of secondary-level teachers, which is largely undertaken by a national institute and several regional centres, there are moves to produce a closer association of secondary education institutions with the national university (Universidad de La República).

Besides the issue of tertiary versus university teacher education, the extent to which provisions are predominantly public (Argentina and Uruguay) or predominantly private in terms of student numbers (Chile) is an important one. In Chile, as a result of market policies in place since its military dictatorship period (1973–90), private provisions grew with little regulation and control, especially during the 2000s (Cox, Meckes and Bascopé 2010; Ávalos 2015). This was considered to have mainly affected the preparation quality of pre-school and primary teachers, many of which have been trained in private programmes that were either not accredited or accredited for a short period of time. Concern about the quality of teacher education in Perú, with a mainly private teacher education system, led to a comprehensive review of teacher policies in 2002 that highlighted an ‘irrational’ output of new teachers, many of which came from private institutions. A drastic decision to reduce new intake into teacher education resulted in the closure of over a hundred private teacher education institutions (Rivas 2015).

Intake quality of teacher candidates

Who applies for teacher education and for what purposes is a key area of policy concern expressed in international policy documents (OREALC/UNESCO 2014a; OECD 2004). In all the Latin American countries and particularly in the ones we are examining more closely, teacher education has been an option for the children of less educated families who were not able to access some form of higher education (Bruns and Luque 2015). The traditional secondary-level Normal School that prepared teachers in Latin American countries took promising students at the end of their primary education and provided them with a mix of secondary schooling and skills for teaching. While this arrangement worked to an extent in the past century, all the countries studied have recognized that it is not appropriate for the twenty-first century. However, efforts to upgrade teacher preparation from secondary to tertiary level beginning in the 1980s and early 1990s (Messina 1997) and the current move towards university teacher education have highlighted the issue of entry qualifications and capacities. Applicants with low-entry qualifications are not always able to cope with university-level demands and reach the knowledge level and skills required today for competent teaching (as measured for example in national and international tests). But reversing the situation in order to attract more qualified candidates requires changes in the status and working conditions of teachers, which is unsatisfactory in practically all of the countries considered in this review (Ávalos 2013; Cuenca and Stojnik 2008; Vaillant and Rossel 2006).

There are complications with policies that substantially seek to improve entry qualifications of teacher candidates. Drastic policies to raise entry requirements for teacher education like those that took place in Perú in 2006 produced an enormous lowering of admissions from 22,000 in 2006 to 305 in 2008 (Rivas 2015), and as noted earlier, resulted in the closure of over a hundred private teacher education institutes. It also meant that there was an insufficient number of teacher education candidates to serve indigenous bilingual and rural communities (Bruns and Luque 2014). A similar problem was experienced in Colombia in terms of insufficient coverage of teachers in some geographical regions as compared to others (Ministerio de Educación de Colombia 2013). There is also concern in Chile that the raising of the university entry qualifications for future teachers endorsed in the 2016 new law on teachers may affect the intake into teacher education programmes located in the remote north and south regions of the country as well for the difficult-to-staff areas of teaching such as secondary mathematics and sciences.

A different form of attracting better candidates into teaching is through use of incentives such as scholarships. Chile has had such a programme in place since 2010, covering payment of university fees for good candidates who enrol in teacher education. The scholarship requires new teachers who benefitted from the scholarship commit themselves to at least three years of teaching in the public school system. However, after an initial success the number of applicants for these scholarships has diminished (Ávalos 2015).

The teacher education curricula and its quality

Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s to date strong criticisms have been coming from various sources, including civil society movements, regarding the quality of teacher education provisions. Much of these criticisms tend to be general and associated with the assumed effect of teacher education over student results in standardized tests. This has been particularly evident in opinions appearing in Chilean media but also in the discourse of politicians, policymakers and ad hoc reports (Ávalos 2015). Beyond this kind of critique there are substantial concerns regarding the delivery of teacher education. For example, a recent report from the National Institute of Teacher Education in Argentina that examined the teacher education curricula offered by provincial institutions produced a list of problem areas which are applicable to other programmes in our target countries. We list them below:

(a) An excessive number of curricular subjects to be covered in the four-year programme of studies

(b) Impact of curriculum overload on low completion rates of student teachers

(c) Inadequate balance between contents related to the school curriculum and contents of other professional subjects

(d) Shortfall in practical knowledge and capacities and on how these need to be developed through fieldwork experiences in accordance with school-level and school contexts

(e) Insufficient elective courses and the use of information technology resources in learning. (Instituto Nacional de Formación Docente, 2014: 24–9)

Similar problem areas were reflected in a report commissioned by the Ministry of Education of Colombia and two universities (Ministerio de Educación Colombia 2012). The report highlighted issues connected with the teacher education curriculum, styles of teaching and use of research. In particular the report noted the need to develop knowledge and capacities for handling different contexts and student populations, including the diversity of indigenous groups in Colombia (also a concern in Chile and Perú). Other concerns pointed to insufficient links with continuous professional development activities and with the use of information communication technologies.

An insight into the effect of different types of institutions over the teacher education curriculum was provided by a study of teacher education in Ecuador circa 2010 (Fabara 2013). The study contrasted the teacher education curricula of two of the most prestigious teacher education institutions, an institute and a university, in terms of time allotted to content knowledge and professional theory (i.e. psychology, sociology, pedagogy) versus time allotted to practical experiences. Both institutions devoted around 16 per cent of total preparation time to the equivalent of ‘liberal arts content areas’ but strongly contrasted in the time allocated to ‘professional theory’. In fact, while the university set aside almost 60 per cent of time for this area, the higher education institute only gave it 14 per cent. On the other hand, as far as time for field experience was concerned, the relationship was reversed. Thus, the university left only 2 per cent of time for practicum compared to 47 per cent of time at the institute. In other words, the ‘university’ was high on what one might be regarded as theoretical professional studies and low on practical experiences, while the ‘institute’ clearly emphasized practical learning experiences. This situation illustrates what tends to be usual in university preparation, which in Ecuador is high on theoretical contents and very low on field experiences (Fabara 2013).

Curriculum overload is as much a problem as are its contents and the proportion allotted to theory and practice. Uruguay is one of the countries with better performance in the TERCE evaluation, and to some extent, this may be due to long-standing recognized quality in the preparation of pre-school and primary teachers (Mancebo n/d). Currently, the Institutes of Teacher Education jointly prepare pre-primary and primary teachers through a common core of professional subjects offered in the first of a four-year programme after which candidates may select the school level for which they wish to prepare. According to Mancebo (n/d), teachers are prepared ‘to face the multiple challenges of primary education with appropriate technical capacities’, have ‘clear professional rules and a clear idea about education being their central remit’ and have good practical experiences (Mancebo 2006). However, more recently, fluctuations in the size of enrolment, and especially a drop in the number of teachers who effectively complete their studies, have become a matter for concern. New student-teacher enrolment fell from 1,007 in 2007 to 835 in 2012 and to 713 in 2013, mainly affecting institutions in the capital city of Montevideo as compared to other locations in the country (MEC 2014). Among possible explanations for this situation is the fact that teacher education candidates tend to be older than other higher education students and need to work part-time while studying. However, another interpretation suggests that there may be problems related to curriculum overload and its effects on students falling behind. This, in fact, was the finding of two surveys of students attending primary teacher education institutes in 2005 and 2008 together with evidence on changes in perceptions regarding the difficulty level of the curriculum and its requirements. Over the period, the proportion of those who thought the curriculum was ‘very heavy’ had increased from 41 per cent to 51 per cent (CIFRA 2012).

Improving the curriculum via standards setting and competitive funding

One of the most recommended ways of establishing appropriate curriculum for teacher education is through linking it to a system of standards or competences associated with expected learning results on the part of future teachers. Among our target countries, Chile and Perú, in different ways, have used a standards system to improve the curriculum and delivery processes.

In Perú, the teacher education curriculum for public non-university teacher education programmes was reviewed in 2010–11, following recommendations from an earlier examination of the state of teachers and teacher education (Ministerio de Educación Perú 2002). The review recommended that the curriculum be guided by competences reflecting the tasks teachers perform in classrooms and schools. This led to the development and approval of a national profile of competences for the teaching body and teacher education (Ministerio de Educacion Perú 2013). However, a recent book (Díaz 2014) that examines the situation of teacher education in Perú is hard on the competency-based curriculum and the capacity of teacher educators to enact it. Díaz (2014) considers that the competency framework is low on higher-level competencies to handle imaginatively more complex teaching situations and overloaded with competencies requiring more content knowledge than manageable in the available timeframe. It is also not sufficiently relevant for multi-grade schools and intercultural bilingual education. On teacher educators Díaz (ibid.: 30) was even more critical in terms of their capacity to work with a competency-based curriculum:

Teacher educators are resistant to change and tend to reproduce the manner of teaching of those who taught them. Such an attitude tends to perpetuate practices of copying, dictation and repetition, a low level of complexity and depth in the contents taught and scarcity of relevant information provided in relation to what is taught. This is partly due to insufficient pedagogic preparation and the lack of a professional basis for their work.

In order to influence the quality of the teacher education curriculum in both public and private institutions, Chile has been using two main policy instruments: standards setting for teacher education and competitive funding for the improvement of the curriculum and processes. The standards, intended to guide processes of teacher education curriculum review, cover content and methods’ knowledge related to all school subjects (pre-primary to secondary) as well as general pedagogical knowledge. They have been gradually developed since 2010 and have only recently been completed. The system of competitive funding has been in place for almost ten years and has benefitted consortia of university teacher education programmes focused mainly on curriculum improvement. The projects have provided scope for institutions to review their curriculum including the quality of their field experiences and introduce relevant change. There has not been an external evaluation of these projects, but a study of the collaboration links within these consortia around the country shows that they are poor, especially in those institutions that are closer to the centre or metropolitan region of Chile (Urbina, Cárdenas and Cárdenas 2012). More recently, competitive funding to improve teacher education has taken the form of Performance Agreements that tend to place emphasis more on quantitative indicators as evidence of success of the projects than on the quality of teacher education processes such as teaching and the use of practical knowledge and experience (Ávalos 2015).

Quality assurance

Over the last twenty years concerns about the quality of teacher education in terms of the solidity of its institutions and academic programmes have influenced the development of different measures of quality assurance. These include external accreditation of teacher education institutions and their programmes (Chile, Colombia and Perú), evaluation of teachers’ knowledge at the end of their studies (Chile and Perú) and various forms of coordination and institutional support (Argentina and Uruguay).

In Colombia, accreditation of teacher education programmes was regulated in 2012 for all teacher education programmes in universities and non-university institutions. It is managed by the National Council of Accreditation and is not compulsory. Perú, in turn, has had a system of standards-based accreditation in place since 2008 for both the teacher education institutes and the university programmes.

In Chile the government secured legislation in 2009 that made programme accreditation obligatory for all institutions offering teacher education. Over time the institutions have been progressively accredited, but until recently about 50 per cent of them had achieved less than five of a possible total of seven years’ accreditation. Despite there being only assumed evidence of the effect of accreditation on new teachers’ knowledge (Domínguez et al. 2012), its role as a quality assurance mechanism has been reinforced in the new 2016 law on Teacher Professional Development (see Note 3).

Evaluation of the knowledgebase of graduating teachers is being used as another way of verifying the quality of teacher education institutions. Perú established such an examination for new teachers applying for posts in public schools. Results of its first application in 2006 served as a warning light about the low quality of the teacher education preparation. The test continues to be used and measures school curriculum knowledge, logical reasoning and understanding of written texts. More recently, in 2013, the Ministry of Education administered a similar test to final-year students of teacher education institutes also with highly unsatisfactory results (Díaz 2014). Similarly, since 2008 Chile has had a voluntary-based test for new teachers administered immediately after completion of their studies. This assessment has suffered from not being properly aligned with the teacher education standards for most of the period of its application (Ávalos 2015) and as placing the responsibility for learning on the graduating teacher rather than on the institution that prepared him or her (García-Huidobro 2010). In view of these shortcomings, the test is being replaced by a diagnostic examination to be administered one year before completion of studies, and is expected to have a formative rather than a summative purpose.

Argentina and Uruguay do not have systems of quality assurance based on accreditation or examination of graduates. However, the National Institute of Teacher Education in Argentina has taken on an important role in coordinating and supporting quality improvement in the over 1,200 teacher education institutions that are under provincial management. In Uruguay, the quality of teacher education is firmly under centralized government control. All institutions share the same curriculum structured under a common set of competences, but there are no procedures for the evaluation of these institutions. In pro of a better coordination and quality development of teacher education institutions, the 2008 General Law of Education provided for the establishment in Uruguay of a National Pedagogic University, similar to those in Ecuador and Colombia. However, despite advanced plans for the university, the government has decided to postpone its opening.

Concluding thoughts

Over the last fifteen years there have been diverse diagnostic analysis of the state of teacher education in Latin American countries, particularly in relation to the provision of qualified teachers, the institutional basis of teacher education (from tertiary to university level) and the quality of its curriculum and preparation processes. The evidence or part of the evidence discussed in this chapter suggests that despite advances in the direction of improving in these areas, teacher education continues to be regarded as a problem. This has been particularly true of the public image of teacher education, for example, in Chile (as evident in letters to the editor of key newspapers during the discussion of the new law on teachers).

Following international recommendations, all the countries included in this review have examined in recent years the status of their systems, either through formal government sponsored reports or through taking stock of data provided by independent studies. Resulting from these reviews, some countries have undertaken difficult structural changes such as the closing of non-functioning teacher education institutions in Ecuador and distance teacher education programmes in Chile. Some countries such as Uruguay have directly reviewed their teacher education curricula while others such as Perú and Chile have established standards or competencies to guide a curriculum review.

There has been a general trend towards raising all teacher education to university level in Chile and Colombia, but also in process in Ecuador and Perú. Some of these measures are very recent and hardly can be reflected in achievement test results until a reasonable period of time elapses. But, others have been in place since the early 2000s and should be having some effect on current school teaching practices and student learning, although little evidence has been gathered on this. Practising teachers have different views about the quality and impact of teacher education. For example, in Chile, teachers attribute difficulties in handling inclusion in classrooms and their student differences to shortcomings of their teacher education programmes (Ávalos 2013). On the other hand, a recent teacher survey in Perú found that teachers had more trust in their teacher education institutions than in the education system’s administrators (Consejo Nacional de Educación Perú 2015).

To assess with fairness the role of teacher education over teaching practices and student learning, we need to remember that it is part of a system in which each of its constituent elements needs to be considered. Thus, the quality of teacher education per se depends on a composite of factors operating in a relational manner. Seen from the inside of the teacher education processes, these factors include an appropriate institutionalization, relevant and demanding curricula and technology, links with research evidence and rich field experiences. Quality also rests on competent teacher educators who are experienced practitioners interacting with able and committed student teachers. These elements of quality are present in all the systems we have examined, but partially and with varying degrees of shortcomings and limitations.

While the move towards a more solid system of teacher education, mostly university based as in Chile, Colombia and Ecuador, is commendable, it also entails a loss of direct government vigilance over its quality like the one that now exists in Uruguay and more reliance on external controls such as accreditation and examinations as in Chile. External policies such as raising the entry level for new teacher trainees while important in terms of the knowledge base and higher-order capabilities these candidates will bring to the teacher education process, also restrict the availability of those from certain geographical regions as in the case of Chile or from indigenous groups as in Perú, Colombia and Ecuador. These facts are acknowledged by the systems we have studied and explain why it is not always possible to follow international recommendations about teacher education as rapidly as might be desirable (OREALC/UNESCO 2014a; OREALC/UNESCO 2014b).

Regarding teacher education processes themselves (curricular balance and relevant theoretical and practical activities) we found dissatisfaction, particularly in Chile, Ecuador and Perú (Ávalos and Matus 2010; Díaz 2014; Fabara 2013). This is leading those system authorities to engage in different types of curricular reforms but may be lacking in explicit actions to secure an appropriate balance between content knowledge, pedagogic content knowledge as well as adequate teaching strategies and practical experiences.[3] It would seem, as Vaillant (2015) using the case of Uruguay notes, that the ‘black box’ of teacher education remains in need of more privileged attention and coordinated work among teacher education academics and practitioners and not just legislation and decrees from government authorities.

Initial teacher education is only the first link in the teacher education continuum. Data from the TERCE teacher questionnaire indicate that while a high proportion of Latin American teachers have taken part in in-service professional development activities, a much lower proportion has participated in courses focused on language or mathematics teaching (see Table 8.3). In some of the countries there are no provisions to mentor new teachers, while in others induction is starting to be recognized as a valid stage in a teacher’s career. Perú has provisions for formal induction of new teachers in the public schools, Argentine teacher education institutions provide support to their graduates when they begin to teach and Chile has recently enacted legislation that will gradually implement induction for all new teachers in subsidized schools. It will be important for other countries to follow suit in the understanding that teacher education cannot prepare for all the particularities of the school contexts in which new teachers begin their professional life.

A large part of the prevailing critique of teacher education quality derives from dissatisfaction with school student performance on national and international standardized tests, especially in PISA. However, there is a strong effect of socio-economic status interacting with teacher work and impacting on performance, especially in the case of Chile, Colombia, Perú and Uruguay as per a recent OECD report based on PISA 2012.[4] In Chile, which is the Latin American country that ranked highest in the OECD’s inequity scale, a disadvantaged child is six times more likely to perform poorly at school and four times as likely to fail his basic education level. This child needs very well-prepared teachers who are committed to working with him. However, the ‘very well-prepared teacher’, if given the choice, will tend not to teach in that child’s school for reasons of working conditions. Not only do teacher education programmes have to work with their good trainees, developing capabilities to teach disadvantaged children and commitment to want to do so. There also is need for policies, such as monetary incentives for new teachers who are willing to work with disadvantaged school populations, as some of the countries studied are beginning to use. What we learn from these experiences of change and their limits is that teacher education cannot be evaluated only in the light of what happens inside its institutions or in school classrooms, but also in the light of the broader society and its needs, including the policies that govern the education system as a whole. Thus, to conclude, and returning ‘the relational’ nature of teacher education, we should like to highlight the following:

  • The quality of teacher education depends on and is connected to the professional status and working conditions of teachers, especially if we are to attract the ‘best’ into the profession.

  • The ‘best’ are found not only among those with high scholastic qualifications but also among those who are part of or closely committed to the culture and language of the students they will teach, even if their entry portfolio appears to be less ‘impressive’.

  • Academia and practice are not necessarily opposites. They can join ranks in the task of improving teacher education processes. And finally,

  • Teacher preparation is only the first link in a teacher’s formative path. Its progress needs to be supported by policies, which include new teacher induction and subject-focused professional development.

We thus conclude this chapter noting how the six-country teacher education cases discussed illustrate existing tensions between teacher education as a problem and teacher education as a lever for educational quality improvement. It will never be ‘the solution’ because teachers are part of a system with many interacting elements, all of which need to function reasonably well. But if the nature of teacher education’s problematic conditions are not well identified and dealt with, a key factor in the educational system’s well-being will be failing. Each one of the countries reviewed was attempting to improve on perceived problems or failures. However, while the solution of one country may not be the solution for another, learning from each other’s experiences can contribute to improved teacher education policies, structures, processes and practices.

[1] With assistance from Sebastián Araneda. Acknowledgment is due to support funding from Basal Funds for Centres of Excellence, Project FB003.

[1] Ecuador, however, has announced its intention to participate in the next administration of the PISA test.

[2] Law 20.903 ‘Crea el sistema de desarrollo professional docente’ (Establishes the system of teacher professional development) (1 April 2016).

[3] Chile is trying to do this through legislation. The recent teachers’ law (2016) rules that to be accredited, teacher education programmes, among other requisites, must provide evidence of having established cooperation links with schools for practicum experiences as well as evidence of improvement actions related to results of student teacher diagnostic tests.