Teaching graduates fail national competency test

Appalling results in the Prueba Inicia, or Start Test – a voluntary national exam that assesses the competence of Chilean teaching graduates – is forcing the government and universities to improve teacher training and make the teaching profession more attractive.

Over half of new teaching graduates who took the test did not know their specific subjects or how to impart them, according to the results of the test, announced on 22 August.

“The results are alarming…extremely worrying,” said Education Minister Carolina Schmidt.

“Over 60% of graduates at all levels – kindergarten, primary and secondary – have insufficient knowledge of their subject matters…and we are talking here of new graduates, about to receive their degrees,” she added.

The worst performers were kindergarten and primary education teaching graduates, while 76% of future secondary school teachers did badly in physics and chemistry.

Mario Waissbluth, head of the Education 2020 foundation, found the poor results at kindergarten level especially serious since infants’ education may become compulsory and the number of free nurseries and kindergartens is set to increase.

Only 1,443 teaching graduates, 14% of the total, sat the Inicia test in April this year, the lowest participation since its inception in 2008.

The low participation has been attributed to the date of the test – it was shifted from December to April – and that it is neither compulsory nor impinges on the work prospects of teachers who sit it.

But, Schmidt asserted, there were no excuses for the bad results. The test “does clearly reflect the state of affairs, which is that new graduates do not have the abilities required to educate”.

Study of the test

The worst performers in the test are from the poorest socio-economic backgrounds, according to a study by Alberto Hurtado University, or UAH.

It showed that only 13% had university-educated parents and only 7% attended private, paid, primary and secondary elite schools against 18% in the total university intake.

Also, most secondary school students who entered university teacher training colleges had very low grades (under 500) in the national entrance exam and 35% did not even sit this exam.

“These records suggest that the main weakness of teaching graduates [who took the Inicia] could be more due to the characteristics of incoming students than to the quality of training,” said the UAH study.

Tatiana Cisternas, a researcher at UAH, believes that at the heart of the bad Inicia results is the large number of teaching programmes and students: more than 1,400 and 120,000 respectively.

Both have soared in the past decade due to the absence of regulations and should be cut back. “We do not have the human resources to improve the quality of so many programmes,” Cisternas said.

Corrective measures

The teacher quality crisis has prompted the government and universities to take corrective measures.

A Teaching Degree Bill, proposed by the government, has been bogged down in parliament for over a year-and-a-half due to vocal opposition from the teachers’ union and opposition parties.

After the results of the Inicia test were announced, the education minister tabled five amendments to the bill, to speed up its approval.

They all are measures aimed at improving teacher quality by increasing entry requirements for teaching at state or state-supported infant, primary and secondary schools, where 93% of Chile’s teachers work.

The amendments include higher entry requirements such as good grades in the Inicia test, which would become compulsory; having studied at accredited education faculties; and special teacher ‘excellence’ bonuses for good teachers plus an additional 40% for those who teach in the most vulnerable areas.

The first students awarded a Teaching Vocation Scholarship for student teachers who obtain more than 600 points in the university entrance exam – another measure aimed at attracting better-performing students to teaching courses – graduated last month.

For their part, universities are improving teaching college curricula, some of them with financial support from the Ministry of Education.

The next version of the Inicia test is scheduled for December 2014, by which time Schmidt hopes the Teaching Degree Bill will have been passed by parliament.

A national campaign is being launched this month by the Elige Educar – Choose to Educate – foundation to influence the agendas of presidential and congressional candidates for the 9 November general elections.

Large posters are being displayed in Santiago’s underground showing, with numbers, that good teachers improve education, and asking people to remember teachers that “changed our lives and our world vision”. Letters are also being sent to journalists, politicians and business people.