Ensuring good teachers requires good checkups
To raise the quality of education, it is essential to improve the abilities of teachers. Measures such as a teaching improvement program that started last academic year should be reviewed in order to strengthen their effectiveness.
According to the Education, Science and Technology Ministry, 306 teachers at public primary, middle and high schools were recognized as lacking adequate teaching ability by education boards of each prefecture and major cities last academic year. It was the fourth consecutive year that the number of underperforming teachers has gone down.
These teachers comprise only a tiny fraction of the about 900,000 public school teachers in the nation. But coupled with the existence of teachers who have been punished for misconduct, the issue of a lack of ability in teachers has been one of the reasons for a growing distrust of teachers among the public.
Local education boards had been entrusted with judging under their own standards the competence of their teachers, and were responsible for providing training for improvement.
However, starting last academic year, boards of education are now required by law to provide improvement training for teachers deemed insufficient in teaching skills. The education ministry also has listed examples of teaching practices that are regarded as lacking.
Teachers considered ill-qualified are those who are unable to make appropriate curriculum instructions, give appropriate guidance and counseling for students and manage classroom operations. Improvement training programs include mock lessons. If these teachers fail to show any improvement after undergoing as much as two years of training, education boards can take such measures as transferring or dismissing them.
This system was introduced because it was decided that the license renewal system for teachers, which began this academic year, would focus on encouraging teachers to obtain up-to-date knowledge and skills rather than removing ill-qualified teachers. These new goals dictate a strict evaluation of a teacher's ability.
Only about 40 percent of boards of education provide training programs for teachers who have problem areas among their otherwise adequate abilities. Boards of education that have yet to offer such training programs should be proactive and introduce such schemes.
Educating the educators
Of the about 24,000 new teachers who started working last academic year, those not officially hired after a one-year probation period was a record high 315, nearly three times the figure five years ago. Almost 30 percent of these teachers quit voluntarily, citing mental illness such as depression.
Some education boards have taken such measures as setting up forums for information exchange among principals of schools that have taken on first-time teachers and the incorporation of mental health issues in training programs for new teachers. These efforts need to be made more widely available.
The administration of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama intends to extend the duration of teacher-training courses from the current four years to six years, aiming to improve teacher quality. The plan is intended to extend the amount of classroom training for would-be teachers.
But how many universities could offer such a six-year course and the full-time staff to run it? It would also mean increased tuition burdens on students. The envisaged system could backfire, resulting in a drop in the number of applications to become teachers, lower competition ratios in teacher employment examinations and a reluctance among motivated and skilled people to choose a career in teaching.
It is necessary to carefully examine the merits and demerits of such extended courses, and decide whether they would actually help enhance teachers' quality.
Next spring, first-time teachers will complete their studies at graduate schools for education that opened from last academic year. The end of the two-year maximum period for improvement programs also is approaching. We hope the effectiveness of courses and training programs will be closely checked and that the results of the review process will be used to improve the teacher training courses and teacher employment examinations.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 5, 2009)