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16th Nov 2018

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Europe needs teacher training academy

  • A brilliant PhD student is not necessarily a brilliant teacher (Photo: Jens Schott Knudsen)

Europe should help set up a teacher training academy to help counter the "embarrassing disappointment" that makes up much of teaching in the continent's universities and colleges, a new report recommends.

The study, published Tuesday (15 June), indicates that across Europe's 4,000 higher education institutions the balance between teaching and research - with much more respect given to the latter - is out of kilter.

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It also notes that while professional teacher training is "generally taken for granted" at primary and secondary level, it is often seen as not needed at tertiary level.

The report laments the assumption that "a first class honours student in biochemistry with a brilliant PhD will, by some mysterious process, automatically be a good teacher of biochemistry."

It notes that "quality teaching is a sine qua non of a quality learning culture" and that this should be a "daily lived priority" in every institution.

But it adds: "The truth about that daily lived reality, however, is an embarrassing disappointment," with high quality teaching often due to the "enlightened commitment of a few individuals."

EU education commissioner Androulla Vassiliou said the study was a "call to action," with the EU having set itself the goal of getting 40 percent of young people graduated from higher education by 2020.

Poor teaching, notes the report, is likely to make students drop out.

Mary McAleese, a former Irish President who chaired the report by education experts, pointed to the EU's "untenable" levels of youth unemployment, noting that "our shared future relies so much on improving education."

Among the report's 16 recommendations is a proposal to set up a European academy of training and learning, which would support higher education institutions in developing their own teaching and learning strategies, and including "web-based teacher training courses and modules."

It also suggests morale-boosting measures for those who are dedicated and able teachers, such as recognition through faster promotion and prizes.

Teachers should also be trained continuously to learn both the latest teaching methods and the latest developments in their area. By 2020 all teaching staff in universities and colleges should have had pedagogical training, suggests the report.

Meanwhile, student feedback should be integral to all courses and higher education institutions should not just offer mentoring and support for students but for teachers too.

The recommendations, inspired by measures in some member states, are "intensely practicable, achievable and reality-checked," said McAleese.

However, the EU has few powers in education, which remains a national policy area.

Instead it tends to chivvy member states along by making such reports, looking at best practices and pointing out what educational defects will mean for the EU's competitive standing in the world.

Vassiliou said she will raise the report's findings in "all fora," with a further study on teaching in the digital age due out this time next year.

European higher education faces budget cuts

The global economic crisis has led to budget cuts in the education sector in member states across the European Union at a time when the bloc is seeking to boost its economy by, among other things, putting education centre of its new economic strategy.

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