The Learning curve

Good teachers are made, not born

When World Bank senior education specialist Javier Luque spoke on “Teaching for Learning” at the Teacher Quality Forum series of the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), those in attendance knew that difficult questions were being raised: With the current scenario of poor learning achievement and the unemployability of affected students after graduation, what role must teachers play in improving the situation? How do we begin to raise teacher quality toward improved learning in the country?

Luque left us with significant findings from his recent studies on “great teachers”: the consensus that education quality is one of the main predictors of long-term economic growth; great teachers are essential to high-quality education systems; there is teacher talent in most schools; teacher content knowledge makes a difference; and, aside from families, teachers are the most important factor in the education process.


A good teacher can effect 1.5 years of learning growth, while a bad teacher does only 0.5 years. Interesting to note is the finding that the relationship between degrees, experience, training courses and teacher differences is small.

How then are good teachers made? Basic to this is ensuring that the best are attracted to education, and that only the best are selected to teach.


In the Philippine setting, there are over 1,200 teacher education institutions, with many of them having an open-admissions policy and over 500,000 students each school year. The curriculum needs to be reexamined, evaluated and streamlined to cater to today’s needs. Luque recommends an entrance exam and also an exit exam to ensure that a bona fide education degree was taken. The exit exam should include criteria and standards set by the Department of Education.

Consider how lamentably the education graduates have fared in the government licensure examination (LET) the last 10 years. It is an assessment on the state of education training in the country.

According to data from the Commission on Higher Education, the average passing rate of the last 10 years is about 31 percent. During the March 2018 test, it was alarming to note that 72 percent of all test takers were retakers. PBEd had made a recommendation that the Board of Professional Teachers impose a three-strike rule for LET takers.

Another important issue related to teacher quality concerns the salary schedule for teachers.  Luque points out  that “the teaching salary must be similar at least to other professions that require similar levels of training and education… We also [have to] make sure that there is some reward to teaching that is also comparable to what happens in other careers.” My own favorite blunt reminder to school owners and administrators is, “If you give peanuts, you get monkeys.”

Teachers need not view their role in the classroom as a dead-end career, with no chance for promotion or enhanced status.

Once high-quality talent is recruited, these teachers need support and assistance to ease the burden of responsibilities and to view the classroom as a public space, an “open door” that welcomes critique, observations and peer support. It is critical for teachers to receive feedback where they see themselves teaching, because research also shows that, often, very little time is spent on actual teaching itself.

But admittedly, measuring teaching is never easy. Common sense tells us that, because of the many factors that rule student-teacher relationships. Research corroborates this in the book by Kane, Kerr and Pianta, “Designing Teacher Evaluation Systems,” which says: “Teaching is a complex interaction among teachers, students and content that no single measurement tool is likely to capture.”


Yes, it is imperative that we keep the conversation going for the Philippine educational system to move forward. Teacher quality and learning ought to be a true national concern, not a mere motherhood statement.

For more information on the topic, a free downloadable copy of “Great Teachers: How to Raise Student Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean,” by Barbara Burns and Javier Luque, is available at

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (nenisrcruz@ is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.


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TAGS: column, education, opinion, world bank
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