“21st century learners call for 21st century teachers.” How many times have we heard this dictum repeated in the last decade? And yet, as much as we may wish to ignore it, we cannot deny the truth of the statement. What can be done to better equip teachers for schooling in the 21st century?
“The top 10 in-demand jobs projected for 2010 did not exist in 2004. In today’s world, individual and societal success increasingly depends on our capacity to learn. And societies rely, as never before, on our capacity to teach.”
– Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University (cited in Davie, 2009)
The role of the teacher is more important now than ever before. In the words of Prof Darling-Hammond:
Teachers’ work, while always complicated, is becoming ever more important as the challenges for which they prepare their students are becoming more complex. (in Low, Taylor, Joseph, & Atienza, 2009, Foreword)
Our youth must be well-equipped to survive and succeed in the new global landscape. Not only do they need to have the mind but also the values and skills to cope with the changing times.
And increasingly, that responsibility of equipping our young is being placed upon teachers. It’s becoming the job of teachers to develop the “whole child”, not only intellectually but also socially, morally, physically and aesthetically.
In fact, the most important determinant of student outcomes, according to a recently released report on the International Education Roundtable held in July last year, is teaching quality (Barber & Mourshed, 2009).
Becoming a 21st Century Teacher
What does this mean for teaching and teacher education? While the list of future-ready student outcomes has been extensively spelled out in MOE’s Curriculum 2015 (C2015) document, what about the values, skill sets and competencies that teachers should be looking at developing?
These were some of the questions that teacher educators at Singapore’s National Institute of Education (NIE) asked themselves as they surveyed the quickly changing educational landscape. Because inasmuch as teachers need to develop new mindsets and skill sets, our teacher education systems also need to stay one step ahead.
The team at NIE undertook to review and enhance NIE’s teacher education programmes to produce a stronger teaching force, in a way that is responsive to the needs of our schools. Their response is documented in a recent report on A Teacher Educational Model for the 21st Century (or TE21; Low et al., 2009).
Why this Report Is Important
With the learner at the heart of its educational goals, the TE21 report spells out the key areas of development for both teachers and student teachers.
“In preparation for writing the report, the editorial team did a lot of envisioning of what 21st century skill sets and development areas for students and teachers would look like,” says Associate Professor Low Ee Ling, who co-edited the report. The team also conducted an extensive literature review and referred closely to MOE’s C2015 document.
As a result, “the main recommendations outlined in this report clearly hold the potential to achieve [the] features of exemplary teacher education programmes,” writes Prof Darling-Hammond (in Low et al., 2009, Foreword).
A particularly important step, notes Prof Darling-Hammond, is the effort to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Strengthening the role of mentorship in the school practicum experience is one way NIE aims to close the gap.
NIE Associate Professors Angela Wong and Liu Woon Chia support these moves. They believe that by developing the competencies and expanding the repertoire of skills of Cooperating Teachers and School Coordinating Mentors, they will be able to better perform their roles in guiding, observing, giving feedback and leading student teachers in reflective practices.
Prof Darling-Hammond also hails the recommendation to develop and phase in portfolio assessments for teachers as “a bold and important move” (Low et al., 2009, Foreword).
From Planning to Implementation
There is an acute recognition that “the success of the NIE TE21 model ultimately lies in the effective implementation of the recommendations put forward” (p. 25).
While this report is mainly for faculty members at NIE, who are at the heart of the teacher education process, the MOE and schools are crucial partners in helping to successfully transform teacher education for 21st century classrooms.
At the end of the day, teachers can look forward to more targeted professional development, while beginning teachers can expect to more effectively transition from NIE to schools.
Barber, M., & Mourshed, M. (2009, November). Shaping the future: How good systems can become great in the decade ahead. Report on the International Education Roundtable: 7 July 2009, Singapore. Retrieved from the McKinsey & Company website: http://www.mckinsey.com/locations/southeastasia/knowledge/Education_Roundtable.pdf
Davie, S. (2009, August 26). The ST interview: Teacher’s champ. The Straits Times, p. A12.
Low, E. L., Taylor, P. G., Joseph, J., & Atienza, J. C. (Eds.). (2009). A teacher education model for the 21st century. Singapore: National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University.