We don’t have to be experts to recognize that the major factor in getting a good education is a good teacher. Think about your own experiences at school, and surely you can easily identify the teachers who made a big difference in your lives. In my opinion, the Latin American countries have many good teachers, from whom we can learn best practices and therefore replicate their results.
For this reason I liked the presentation that Bill Gates gave this last week to the Governors Association of America.
Gates was asked what is the best investment given spending limits on education in the fiscal crisis that is affecting almost all of the U.S. states. His answer was to identify, reward, and, above all, replicate the good teachers. While other professionals such as Doctors and engineers are constantly improving methods and techniques by copying their more successful peers, teachers do not follow this practice.
I would like to highlight a specific proposal that Gates made that would be of interest to our countries in Latin America, and which is related to the use of technology (no, not giving a laptop to each student). It is installing low-cost video cameras in classrooms.
These cameras focus in turn on the teachers and the students, and enable the teachers to make self-assessments of their classes and observe the reactions of their students. This is not a new idea (filming in class is used for teaching evaluations in Chile), but it is not widely practiced in the region.
The Gates Foundation is pushing this concept in the United States, and I know many foundations and philanthropists who could do so in Latin America.
This is the kind of innovation that is needed in Latin America and the Caribbean, in which the priority is to achieve greater effectiveness in education. After a decade of sustained growth in per capita income, our performance on international educational tests (PISA) is still below what would be predicted by our countries’ income levels.
The most successful countries in this test are most often those that make the greatest efforts to improve the quality of their teachers, and the results are clear; all achieve results much higher than what would be predicted by their wealth.