With an aim to assist the Western Balkans in the area of education and training, as well as to increase regional cooperation, in 2012 the European Commission launched the Western Balkans Platform on Education and Training (WB PET). It includes seven Western Balkan countries: the newest EU member state Croatia, candidate countries Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia as well as potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo.
The overall objective of EU in WB PET is to assist and provide guidance to the region in reforms in the area of education and training. The EU considers investment in education and training crucial to boost growth and competitiveness. The Platform including the Ministers of Education from the region convenes annually to identify topics and areas where regional cooperation and EU assistance is desirable. The Western Balkan countries use the Platform to discuss common issues, share good practice, identify priorities and needs for further support from the EU. The EU has provided considerable project support and assistance for teacher training both within and outside the EU. At the first Platform meeting, there was a common agreement that teacher training is the most important area for the region and EU support.
In order to identify and map teacher education and training systems and trends in Western Balkans, the European Commission (EC) conducted a study to map the education and training of primary and secondary school teachers and to improve the policy dialogue between the EU and the region.
The findings of the study were presented on 19-20 November 2013 in a regional seminar on Teacher Education and Training in the Western Balkans that assembled experts, scholars and researchers, representatives of educational institutions, civil society as well as central and local government. The purpose of the conference was to bring together key actors involved in reforming the system and process of education and training of teachers in the region. The seminar introduced cases of good practice, successful projects, identification of future cooperation opportunities for the region, and what is needed in order to move forward.
Teaching is a profession demanding innovation and continuous improvement of quality of learning systems to provide greater opportunities in a knowledge-based society. Teacher educators’, mentors’ and government’s role is to actively facilitate the learning of teachers to-be, foster innovation and creativity in teaching and learning, following latest developments in EU countries. In attempt to converge towards the EU model, the Western Balkans have experienced difficulties to adopt reforms which further promote and value teaching profession and education programs for teachers in higher education institutions.
The education reforms in the region which aim to restructure teacher education and the qualification system are in various stages of implementation. The process of teacher qualification has been carried out in a conventional manner and despite the efforts the process has been rather slow and in varying degrees among countries and pedagogical institutions. The region is experiencing slow pace of introduction of some reforms like learner-centred approaches, promotion of inclusive education in prevailing areas of ethnically divided schools in most of the countries that emerged after the dissolution of Yugoslavia. The limited innovation in teacher preparation and qualification is due to limited resources of schools and municipalities, teachers’ resistance towards change and fear of coping, poor teachers’ salaries and few or no incentives for teachers to introduce innovations.
Despite the slow pace of reforms, there have been considerable achievements in terms of legislative, policy and institutional developments across the region. Legal frameworks are mostly in place, specialized institutions have been established and strategies, large-scale plans or projects that follow the education and qualification path of teachers have been adopted.
Several cases of good practice across the region were introduced. A representative from the Bureau of Education Services from Montenegro depicted the relevance of induction of primary and secondary school teachers and enhancement of the professional knowledge of novice teachers. The qualification model for career teachers presented at school level and mentoring scheme enables novice teachers develop professionally by observing the classes of their mentors, teaching on extracurricular activities, having their classes supervised and working on their professional portfolio. Another national initiative launched by the Ministry of Education and Technological Development in cooperation with municipalities in Serbia emphasized the role of parents cooperating with schools in Serbia. This initiative has emerged because parents – despite having high expectations from schools – do not recognize their own role and contribution to education institutions. In addition, at local level parents’ councils are involved in addressing several aspects of school community e.g., good practices, sports projects or launching Google groups for communication.
Teacher’s professional development and roles
Scholars examined teachers’ roles and their multiple identities to be taken into account in the professional development system. There is a wide range of teacher educators as the main actors that contribute directly to teacher education and qualification: academic staff teaching subject course and academic discipline, academic staff teaching educational sciences and methodologies, school-based supervisors supervising teachers to-be, school-based mentors tutoring novice teachers as well as education experts in charge of professional development of teachers’ careers.
Teacher educators have key roles to advance professional development of teachers. Albeit the common set of skills, competences and knowledge, shared expertise between these actors is minimal because their tasks and responsibilities are rather divided than mutually shared and because there is a disconnection between teacher education institutions, schools, and the business sector. In order to support development of teacher educators at policy level the Western Balkan countries should establish a systematic and self-regulated way to develop teacher training professionally, design competence standards for teacher educators, adopt national legislation on the quality of teacher educators, implement code of ethics for teacher educators, include the quality of teacher educators in accreditation programs as well as select entry criteria for the profession and progression in the profession (Snoek et al., 2011).
Currently, at EU level the existing policy documents pay limited attention to teacher educators and their professionalism. At national level government bodies and agencies are the key institutions involved in developing quality standards in many EU countries. At institutional level in most countries, teacher educators’ professional development seems to be the responsibility of individual teacher education institutions. At professional level, professionals seem to be hardly involved in the development of policies that promote their professional quality.
Need to implement a systemic approach
The legislation, regulation, national strategies and plans are designed with reference to Finnish model, as the most successful in Europe, at the same time being in line with EU policies. Nonetheless it is the gap between policies, rules, regulations and plans, and their implementation in practice which delays the impact of reforms making them ineffective. There are many difficulties associated with implementation of legal changes requiring institutional and financial support, inter-institutional communication and coordination among interested parties. This is witnessed in the limited relevance and applicability of skills and knowledge offered during professional development of career teachers, unequal access to training, limited capacity of training providers, and weak or limited quality assurance programs and procedures to evaluate teaching performance. The most cumbersome aspect is the limited budget connected with teacher education and training, not to mention, that for teacher education and training aspect in particular there is no budget allocated. Unavoidably that influences the status of the teaching profession which is relatively low and there are no mechanisms to promote the relevance of this profession in order to have qualified teachers in a knowledge-based society. The relatively low salaries and status of the teaching profession often result in the admission of poor-performing students.
In order to support the Western Balkan countries towards effective reforms for a knowledge-based society a systematic approach is needed – to ensure involvement and cooperation between all the stakeholders so that professional development is not a sole responsibility of teacher educators or educational institutions alone but of the whole system; to establish national standards across the region; to reprioritize the role of school and teachers as agents of change in the community; and to involve teachers in the development of policies that promote their professional quality.
Elona Xhaferri is a teaching assistant in the Faculty of Social Science, University of Tirana, Albania and an independent consultant in the field of education. She has conducted research in several projects related to European Integration in Higher Education and Research in the framework of NORGLOBAL programme as well as co-authored a report on Bologna Process Reform in Tempus Countries on behalf of the European Commission. Recently, Ms. Xhaferri co-authored the report on Teacher Education and Training in Albania and attended the conference organized by European Commission where she presented the main findings.
Marco Snoek, Anja Swennen & Marcel van der Klink (2011): The quality of teacher educators in the European policy debate: actions and measures to improve the professionalism of teacher educators, Professional Development in Education, 37:5, 651-664.