The Pre-University Education Reform project excluded the Professional Academy for Teachers from the institutional arrangements for implementation. The arrangement annexes a document from the World Bank for the establishment of a central continuous professional development unit at the Ministry of Education.
This aims to institutionalize the various continuous professional development interventions, so that this unit is responsible for implementing the effective teachers and education leaders component, which is one of the four components of the reform program. Regardless of the effectiveness of the proposed arrangements for the teachers’ professional development, the reform projects’ disregard of the Professional Academy for Teachers reflects a negative assessment of its performance. What problems does the academy face and what were the challenges that led to its exclusion from the education reform project?
The Emergence of the Academy and its Roles
The Professional Academy for Teachers was established by Act 155 of 2007 as a public legal entity under the Minister of Education, with many branches across the republic. It is the entity responsible for designing and planning development exercises for teachers and educational leaders and implementing them while ensuring the application of the “Teachers’ Cadre” as a system specialized to grant licenses or certificates of eligibility to practice the profession, and adopting the criteria of promotion from one level to another. Presidential Decision 129 of 2008 defined the Academy’s specialties as follows:
- The Academy aims at the professional development of members of the education body, as well as continuously improving their abilities and skills, which in turn leads to the upgrading of the education process.
- Implementing plans, policies, and quality standards to prepare training programs necessary to achieve the professional development of members of the education body.
- Proposing and developing professional performance appraisal policies and systems, and participating in setting quality standards for the performance of members of the education body.
- Supporting research and studies in educational and teaching fields as well as monitoring scientific, professional, and educational progress at an international level.
- Proving professional consultations with the Ministry and its directorates and departments, and supporting training and evaluation units in Al-Azhar schools and institutes.
- Active cooperation and partnership with education colleges, research and training centers, and professional development bodies to manage advanced training programs.
- Granting the certificate of eligibility provided for in the Education Act, accrediting professional development program applicants, and completing necessary tests in this regard.
- Providing comprehensive information systems and rules on the members of the education body, expressing an opinion on the preparation of job description cards, and proposing educational qualification requirements and necessary tests for each job.
- Identifying the types of training needed for members of the education body who have received poor or below-average performance reports.
- Providing technical support, consultations, and technical studies to local, Arab, and foreign bodies, institutions, companies, and associations, in accordance with the expense determined by the Academy’s board of directors.
In view of these terms of reference, it is evident that it cannot keep up with the technological boom in training worldwide. Over the past few years, teachers’ professional development has witnessed the emergence of modern trends in training, including but not limited to:
- Professional development is planned and programmed futuristically.
- Application of distance and e-learning training systems.
- International academic accreditation of some professional development programs for teachers, especially those related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
- Training on the new and changing roles of teachers amid distance and e-learning.
- Use of procedural and field research as input for the professional development of teachers.
Training Policies for Teachers
To date, the Professional Academy for Teachers continues to adopt traditional methods and mechanisms for teacher training. Furthermore, it relies on the application of special training whenever it’s needed, and it mostly takes place in the capital, which hampers the achievement of real and effective professional development. Training programs have been an alternative solution following the failure in the teachers’ cadre tests in the real development of teachers’ professional skills.
The training programs are divided by specialization, by the school stage, and by the place of their implementation either centrally at the Academy’s headquarters in the Cairo Metropolitan Area or regionally at subcommittees in the governorates. The training programs are categorized as:
- Educational rehabilitation programs for the educationally unqualified include training courses in educational psychology and teaching methods.
- Regenerative programs: include new teaching methods in scientific and literary curricula.
- Programs for newly graduated educators: they target newly recruited teachers.
- Technical orientation programs: target teachers with an administrative promotion to be mentors, department heads, or directors. They include administrative qualification programs according to the type of administrative job.
- Educational leaders’ training programs include courses about leadership, planning, and building strategic objectives and plans.
- Mission programs and internal grants: usually similar in content to technical guidance programs.
- Mission programs and external grants: they include a lot of content from the Educational leaders’ training programs.
- Distance training programs: are based on the video conference network.
- E-learning platform: it was activated during the coronavirus pandemic, and has the same training content as all training programs through a non-interactive online platform.
The criteria for selection of trainees varies depending on the training programs, but most training is a requirement for financial promotions and is linked to the requirements for completing a fixed period at a given functional level. Trainees for grants programs and internal or external missions are selected by nomination from the top direct manager without declaring any pre-selection criteria.
There are no recent official documents published on the number of training programs. Explaining further, the Ministry’s strategic plan, operational plans, and announced completion reports are limited to the number of trainees, whether teachers or administrators, without assessing the content of training, the seriousness of their implementation, and their impacts on increasing the quality and efficiency of the teaching process by increasing the competence of teachers and administrators, allowing for an impression to be formed of the formal nature of the training plans and their limited usefulness to meet the requirements for promotion of teachers.
More Effective Roles
The role of the Professional Academy for Teachers is limited to monitoring and tracking the professional development of teachers, while depending on that to achieve its objectives of the job promotion program, without looking at the objectives related to setting standards of quality of professional performance, policies and systems of evaluation, and translating them into plans that can be applied decentrally, especially since the Academy has branches in most governorates.
Current developments, imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, impose a restructuring of education and training and require new roles for the continuous professional training for teachers, including:
- The need to specify the training requirements of teachers according to the variables related to geographical distribution, the population characteristics of each area and governorate, as well as the consequent social and economic characteristics. Additionally, it’s also important to take into account the type of school, teacher’s qualifications, and the general and specific specialization, so that training programs are prepared to meet those requirements.
- Taking into account training needs and their classification requires an updated database that serves this purpose and is not limited to the information provided in the statement of employment status. Therefore, a remote interactive network between teachers must be activated, either according to their educational specialty or by profession level. Additionally, the e-teacher platform can be updated to serve as a forum for exchanging experiences, without being limited to individual communication between the teacher and the Ministry.
- Developing a strategic plan, annual or periodic, for the proposed training program models within the general framework of the continuous professional development for teachers. The plan must be with sufficient flexibility to adjust if necessary to meet the real training needs of both teachers and educational leaders.
- Reviewing the plans and training programs using methods that reflect the sincerity of the results using questionnaires, interviews, collections, and workshops, and proposing alternative corrective or remedial plans according to the results of the evaluation and review of the basic plans.
- It’s important to model the plans and pilot the operational plans in some governorates according to the specific criteria before mainstreaming them on all the Academy’s branches across the Republic. This aims to find proof that the policies and training practices can be implemented in real life and are not just ambitious plans that are difficult to reach.
- Allocating training programs to educational research activities, especially regarding new teaching methods, such as those announced by the Minister of Education before the coronavirus pandemic. These included the Flipped Classroom strategy, where the results of experimental educational research, with field application, will demonstrate the hypothesis of preference for a specific teaching method over the others, which will contribute to developing the educational process.
To sum up, professional training for teachers depends on providing well-designed educational programs that take into account, first and foremost, fulfilling the training needs of the targeted teachers. Additionally, the previously mentioned shows that the Professional Academy for Teachers faced many challenges that have prevented it from completing its job, where it’s developing at a very slow pace that does not match the speed of educational development and reforms of the education system, making it wasted energy that hardly meets the limited goals and is mostly limited to meeting the requirements of teachers’ promotions.