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Riigikogu discussed problems of teacher education

On the proposal of the Cultural Affairs Committee, the Riigikogu deliberated the matter of significant national importance “The current state, problems and expectations of teacher education”. Reports were by the Chairman of the Cultural Affairs Committee Urmas Klaas, Rector of the University of Tartu Volli Kalm, Rector of Tallinn University Tiit Land and the Minister of Education and Research Jaak Aaviksoo.

Klaas emphasised that the Cultural Affairs Committee considered it important to deliberate the issue of teacher education as a matter of national importance in the plenary assembly of the Riigikogu so as to draw greater attention to it. “We find that the institution of teacher on a wider scale as well as teachers’ training and their in-service training are one of the most important areas in the updating of education,” Klaas explained. When preparing to bring this issue to the plenary assembly, the Cultural Affairs Committee had held eight sittings in the form of parliamentary hearings. Overviews are available on the website of the Cultural Affairs Committee.

In Klaas’s words, the question of the status of the teacher in our society had run as a red thread through the discussions. He stressed the need to value the teacher’s profession in the society. In the opinion of the Cultural Affairs Committee, it is necessary to increase the popularity of teacher training and to introduce it among university students and upper secondary school students.

The Cultural Affairs Committee had made a proposal to the Government to express the importance of teacher education as an area of study of national importance in national development documents and to take it into account in the financing of higher education from the state budget. In Klaas’s words, at present, teacher education has not been mentioned as a priority area in the Government Regulation for the allocation of activity supports to universities. “We have repeatedly asserted that we have plenty of different education policy development documents. However, if we look for a clear answer as to the principles by which participants in the field of education should be guided, we may find ourselves in trouble,” Klaas admitted. In his words, the Cultural Affairs Committee considers it important that the Ministry of Education and Research develop uniform fundamental bases of education policy in which the tasks set for teachers of different levels of education and the education needs arising therefrom would be taken into account as regards teacher education. The fundamental bases of education policy will definitely have to be discussed in the plenary assembly of the Riigikogu and be adopted here, Klaas noted.

In the opinion of the Chairman of the Cultural Affairs Committee, the subject training oriented at professional academic competence and general pedagogical preparation, and Bachelor’s and Master’s study should be balanced and integrated more closely in teacher education programmes. “A teacher with excellent subject knowledge should be better able to arouse interest in the subject at school, to captivate students and to be skilled to handle pupils with special educational needs which, among other things, involves handling talented pupils,” Klaas noted. He underlined that the society develops and the school must keep pace with the developments. “Today’s teacher definitely has to be a lifelong learner to whom universities offer in-service training. The Cultural Affairs Committee makes a proposal to the Government and universities: to support the professional development of teachers, it is necessary to integrate the initial training, the internship year and in-service training into a whole by updating the in-service system of active teachers,” Klaas said.

The Cultural Affairs Committee is starting the legislative proceeding of the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act. This is the first place where we can apply the conclusions of our hearings and today’s discussion, the Chairman of the Cultural Affairs Committee noted.

Kalm gave an overview of the problems of the University of Tartu. In his opinion, it is important to consolidate the content, organisation, responsibility and obligations of teacher training within the university. At the moment, it is dispersed in faculties. “Our aim is to centralise all responsibility and coordination into one place, the Institute of Education,” Kalm explained.

In his words, the aim is to increase the share of traineeship in curricula, and also the remuneration for traineeship supervision. The curricula will be reformed, taking into account feedback from employers, teachers and students. There is a clear and automated IT system for asking feedback from students; more work needs to be done with employers and graduates, Kalm said.

He highlighted the expectations to the state and the society from the point of view of the university. “There has been much talk about valuing the teacher’s vocation or profession in the society. This is something that the university can certainly support in words on every tribune but it cannot do all that which remains to be done outside the university. A correlation can be seen very clearly in the university: when there are big questions as to the value of the teacher’s profession then we have students with a weaker level entering teacher training. We are actually hoping for support from the state here,” Kalm found.

In Land’s words, one of the main objectives of the development plan of Tallinn University is to strengthen the preparation of teachers. “For this purpose, we also apply the university’s potential in psychology, information technology and social and health sciences, besides pedagogical sciences competence, in teacher training,” Land explained.

The Rector underlined that Tallinn University is certainly looking for different opportunities to increase the attractiveness of studying to become a teacher. “We are looking for ways to attract talented young people who have completed Bachelor’s study for example in economy, education, technology, sociology, media, etc., to enter teacher training. For instance, at the moment we are working on a new model of curriculum in which the emphasis is laid on education technology,” Land noted.

When speaking of the expectations to the Riigikogu and the Government, Land noted that, upon amendment of the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act, the Acts concerning vocational schools and other regulations, the profession of teacher should not be allowed to devalue. A teacher has to be a specialist with higher pedagogical education who understands the development of students and the essence of learning, has research competence and is ready to have an investigative attitude towards his or her work, and to develop learning methods and aids, Land stressed.

Aaviksoo noted that, before starting to look for a magic wand in teacher training, continued attention should be paid to updating the organisation of education and schools, and to the understanding and transformation of the motivation mechanisms functioning within it. “We have tried to do this on the initiative of the Ministry of Education and Research, and to integrate some of it into the Basic Schools and Upper Secondary Schools Act. Increasing the role of the head of school, vesting the head of school with the responsibility for the development of an integral school, and changing the teacher’s profession by developing an integral professional responsibility system instead of the motivation system narrowly based on giving classes,” the Minister said.

In Aaviksoo’s words, in the basic training of teachers, we might continue to trust universities even when we are critical towards certain output of their activities. Despite criticism, it is the universities of Tallinn and Tartu that have the greatest competence. We might also have more trust in schools by growing their responsibility for integral school culture. “Many decisions which concern the practical activities of teachers are primarily for the head of the school to decide and shape. Trust together with firmness towards the head of school will certainly also improve the pedagogical reality that is happening in our schools every day,” the Minister emphasised.

Aadu Must, Paul-Eerik Rummo, Liisa-Ly Pakosta and Helmen Kütt took the floor during the debate.

The sitting ended at 1.02 p.m.

The Riigikogu Press Service