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Educator professional development has worldwide impact

By Dominic Savage
July 1, 2016
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I feel privileged to have had a career in education spanning 40 years working for British Educational Suppliers Association, the educational supply industry trade association in the United Kingdom. It’s a mix of looking after the U.K. industry’s relationship with government and schools, and promoting the development of education worldwide. A recent email from a frequent flyer program told me I had flown to more than 60 countries, and it caused me to look back and assess what has changed over time and across continents.

I started international work in the 1970s, before we asked the question about whether there was a place for the computer in the classroom. A discussion about system change with a ministry of education at that time was all about the right books, the best quality of science apparatus that could be afforded, and choices of teaching aids and products that fell into that lovely category of audio-visual aids. The debates about the purpose of education and the skills that children needed then were relatively unchanged over decades and were simpler. Life was somehow simpler, and more importantly, the extent of the teacher professional development necessary to introduce the sorts of developments required was much less than now.

Today, I regularly meet ISTE CEO Brian Lewis in far-flung destinations and our conversations often turn to the disappointment at yet another government that hasn’t understood that investment in continuous professional development for teachers is the biggest requirement for any plan for change. Wherever one goes these days, education has risen up the political agen-da, often being quoted as the top priority. This is never because the public purse is overflowing and spending on education just sounds good. No, it is always a definite economic necessity, informed by the recognition that this world is changing and that the skills that created our current prosperity are unlikely to be those that will see our children through.

As educators, we have a built-in belief in the fundamental good of education. But in the corridors of power, education and its calls on the public purse must properly take their place alongside every other public service. However, if anyone challenges the need to spend more on education, one need only look at the work of Eric Hanushek from Stanford University who has 50 years’ worth of global data to prove the direct relationship between increasing investment in education and economic growth. His 2015 book, The Knowledge Capital of Nations, writ-
ten with Ludger Woessmann, should be required reading for anyone making decisions on education budgets.

It is of course technology that has done much to shape the changes to our economies and our requirements for education. We may have stopped arguing about whether the use of information and communications technology (ICT) in education is effective, but most countries are far from recognizing that it’s not enough just to use ICT, and that the whole system needs adjustment in order for it to work. In particular, I mean that our traditional methods of assessment and examination often don’t recognize the new skills that technology helps deliver.

We are only on the verge of really understanding how technology can help teachers automate methods of assessments and manage and present student data to help them personalize learning. This brings me to why I so much enjoy the ISTE con-ference each year. I love that these days at the conference are special and the conversations that I overhear are always about how the participants can up their game in the classroom.

It is sobering to remind ourselves that whilst youth unemployment may be around 10 percent in the U.S. and a little more in the U.K., countries like Spain are at 45 percent and Greece has exceeded 50 percent. In the end, we are back to my emphasis on professional development for teachers. If you are actively developing and capable of constant adaptation, always to deliver the most relevant education to your students, you are a pivotal part of ensuring that our economies can blossom in this century.

Dominic Savage is the director of the Education World Forum and director general of the British Educational Suppliers Association.