Why did certification of teachers spark criticism in Armenia?
The results of the pilot program on voluntary certification of teachers were summed up in Armenia, sparking a wave of criticism from educators and experts. Many argue that the appraisal was flawed, and the low scores received by teachers hit both their ratings and the entire education system. Both teachers and experts are demanding a review of the certification procedure.
Meanwhile, the certification was carried out with the best intentions – to raise the level of education, to provide schools with teachers who teach according to modern standards.
An attempt to understand what happened, what is the problem, whether something needs to be changed and how can the program be improved.
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Certification for the pay raise
The process of voluntary testing of teachers began this year and will last approximately three years.
Those who prove compliance with modern requirements in the certification process will be paid higher salaries. At the first stage, those who pass the test will receive a salary increase of 30-50% – in accordance with the points gained.
“The average salary of teachers is 125,000 drams [about $ 258]. The salaries of teachers who receive a 30% raise will increase by 37,000 drams [about $ 76], 40% – by 50,000 [about $ 103], 50% – by 61,500 drams [about $ 127]”, the Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sports Vahram Dumanyan said.
“If the teacher does participate in the voluntary certification, naturally, the government will wonder why they did not take the opportunity to increase their salary”, said Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan.
1,372 teachers, that is, only 11%, submitted applications to participate in the voluntary certification in eight subjects. Even fewer teachers passed certification – only 996 of those who submitted applications.
468 people – 47.2% of the certification participants passed the testing, while 528, more than half, could not obtain the minimum required points.
At the stage of appeals after attestation, 254 complaints were received. As a result of reassessment, the number of teachers who received a salary bonus increased by 13, amounting to 481, that is, a total of 48.5% of the participants.
The ministry says that in the future, the certified teachers will pass another test – according to higher standards, and their salaries will increase again.
“The idea was modern, but everything was organized as usual”
Karine Vermishyan, a teacher of the Armenian language and literature at one of the Yerevan schools, participated in the certification, but did not overcome the barrier of 60% set by the Ministry of Education.
“The idea was right, modern, but everything was organized as usual – via tests. They are well known to tutors who work with tests every day and are financially motivated to learn them. I have no experience of working in high school, and in basic school, in my day-to-day work, there was no need to learn them. The tasks in the test were confusing, there were too many sub-tasks”, says the teacher with 30 years of experience.
In her opinion, testing the knowledge of graduates with tests has long proved ineffective, therefore, using this method for certification of teachers was also unacceptable.
“These tests are an end in themselves, they do not contribute to real language proficiency, they do not contribute to an increase in the level of literacy, oral speech, and the formation of the ability to analyze. The thoughts of those who crammed these tests work only in the direction of where to put a tick – which of the proposed answers”.
“There are inaccuracies in the test”
“Certification means testing the knowledge, skills, and abilities of teachers. But during the certification, only one component was taken into account – knowledge. This led to the fact that people beingrightly indignant about the skills and teaching skills not being taken into account. In the end, the quality of education is determined by the methods and approaches that the teacher uses in the classroom”, says education expert Atom Mkhitaryan.
In his opinion, the certification was carried out without proper preliminary preparation, the opinion of the teachers about the testing process was not taken into account.
Atom Mkhitaryan believes that the decisions were made at the top level and imposed on the teachers, which caused resistance.
Education expert Sofia Hovsepyan determined two main shortcomings of the certification:
- teachers of secondary and high schools were certified according to the same standards,
- tests contained errors.
“There were many mistakes in the tests, which were made by the specialists of the Assessment and Testing Center. As a result, it turned out that the specialists who prepared the tests know the subject, for example, chemistry and geography, to a lesser extent than school teachers”, says Sofia Hovsepyan.
Most of the appeals came from chemistry teachers. In order to check the accuracy of the tests, they even turned to the scientific council of Yerevan State University.
YSU Methodological Council replied that 27 out of 70 questions contain inaccuracies:
“The voluntary certification test for chemistry teachers contains many inaccuracies and cannot serve its purpose. We propose to invalidate the results of certification of teachers in chemistry”.
This response was submitted to the Assessment and Testing Center and the Ministry of Education.
“Teachers will leave schools”
Such a clumsy certification process could lead to an exodus of teachers from schools, says education expert Atom Mkhitaryan:
“There are not enough teachers in 100 schools in Armenia, but instead of coming up with a mechanism for attracting new specialists, encouraging people to teach in rural schools, we do the opposite – we force the existing staff to leave schools and look for other jobs. As a result of these rash actions, the situation in the field of education may worsen in the near future”.
Many of the teachers say that the certification has hurt their authority.
A high school French teacher, Manushak Hovhannisyan, is one of those who openly say that they are thinking of quitting work:
“They want to assign more than two million [about $ 4,000] to prosecutors [in the government], give themselves high bonuses, and consider teachers unworthy? Do teachers have to go through trials?”
Teachers also disagree with the decision of the Ministry of Education to raise salaries by 50% only to those who have passed the certification.
“I do not agree with this approach, what kind of discrimination is that? Let ot be 2,000 drams only [about $ 4], but raise the salaries of all teachers”, says Manushak Hovhannisyan.
“Advanced training instead of certification”
“There are two ways to solve this problem. All teachers unanimously refuse to participate in attestation, after which the state system will be forced to reconsider its approaches. Alternatively, it will be necessary to hold discussions, come to a common denominator and draw up tests at the proper level, after which all teachers will attempt to pass certification”, says Sofia Hovsepyan.
“Instead of attestation, it is necessary to conduct advanced training courses for teachers. If the quality of teaching, knowledge, mastery of innovative methods, and their application are important to us, we need to start with retraining, and not organize exams to “fail” teachers or select “excellent students” among them. It is necessary to study the best world experience and implement it, if our goal is to raise the level of education, and not to organize a show”, Atom Mkhitaryan believes.
Deputy Minister of Education Zhanna Andreasyan publicly admitted the shortcomings and promised:
“Since this was a pilot program, there is a need to amend and improve the process. We are ready to listen to suggestions and discuss them. Hopefully, in the coming years, we will make such changes, as a result of which more teachers will participate in voluntary certification”.