Improving teacher effectiveness is the most important step to improve student learning and outcomes in education systems. Teacher training, in turn, is one of the most widely funded interventions to improve learning. However, in most cases, training programs have a lot of room for improvement. We used an excellent study by the World Bank of its own teacher training programs to understand why training often doesn’t work and what can be done to improve it.

Teacher training in development programmes

Most World Bank education programs include teacher training components. Of 171 projects with education components between 2000 and 2012, nearly two-thirds included professional development for teachers.

Teacher training programs are typically small scale, impacting just 609 teachers on average per year.

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There is little available evidence into the effectiveness of the teacher training programs. Of the 171 programs funded between 2000 and 2012, just 26 had impact evaluations.

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Regressions of learning outcome data from Africa find some evidence of a correlation between training and learning outcomes:

   ·“The correlation between teachers’ professional training and subject matter knowledge is not very strong.”

   ·“In their individual country regressions for SACMEQ, Lee, Zuze and Ross (2005) construct a joint estimate for academic and professional qualification. A positively significant impact is only found for about one third of the countries covered (and insignificant effects otherwise)”

   ·“[Overall, in-service training] is negatively significant in SACMEQ.”

   ·“In PASEC … in-service training has a positive coefficient, which is significant for 5th grade French and implies an improvement of up to 5% of a standard deviation in students’ scores for each additional training seminar the teacher has attended per year.”

   ·“The results were mixed…years of professional training in teachers showed a positive relationship to math achievement in Mozambique and South Africa, and reading in Namibia and South Africa. It showed a negative relationship to math achievement in Botswana and Tanzania. Teacher content knowledge…was a significant predictor for math achievement in four countries (except Mozambique).”

This is important, because other information suggests that most teacher training has little effect on teaching and learning.

Improving teacher training

Extensive research has unveiled a range of best practices for teacher training. However, these best practices are only occasionally applied in the design and delivery of programs. For instance, analysis by the World Bank shows that best practices are only applied in a fraction of its programmes.

For example, one factor which has a positive impact on learning is ensuring that content focuses primarily on classroom management and pedagogy. However, research shows that only 4% of programs include classroom management material and that programs only sometimes include pedagogy as a major focus.

Another factor which has a positive impact on learning is including follow-up reviews. The studies showed that these only occurred in 12% of programs.

These levers highlight just a few of the many factors which improve teacher training. Making teacher training effective should be a priority of all providers, as it has significant potential to positively impact results. Organisations should use research-based knowledge when implementing interventions to raise effectiveness and learning dramatically.  

Source: ADEA Biennale 2006 – The cost-effectiveness of inputs in primary education: Insight from the literature and recent student surveys for sub-Saharan Africa; Helpdesk Report: Impact of Teacher Training on Learning Outcomes, DFID, 2011