The COVID-19 pandemic has both required but also inspired unprecedented changes in educational systems around the world. In this rapidly evolving environment, questions emerged on how to best use these new digital tools and new pedagogical approaches to meet the needs of students, especially the most vulnerable ones. As schools reopen, policy makers, practitioners, students and their families wonder how the pandemic experience will affect the future of teaching and learning and what “teaching professionalism” really means in these trying times.

However, whatever that future will look like, the foundations for “teaching professionalism” will remain: building, supporting and maintaining the teaching workforce as knowledgeable, resourceful and active agents capable of making expert decisions concerning their students, classrooms and schools. As for all professionals, teachers need adequate support to live up to the expectations set in their work and to help their students achieve their full potential. In that sense, the pandemic has not shifted the notions of professionalism, but rather has made them more visible, palpable and present. If anything, it has created a sense of urgency in the education community, reinforcing the need to move quickly on the steps required for the teaching profession to successfully meet these new challenges.

This vision of professionalism in teaching has guided the development of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), the largest international survey asking teachers and school leaders about their working environments and practices. Although the data for TALIS 2018 were collected prior to the pandemic, they can provide valuable input on the status of teacher professionalism across participating systems. The focus of the previous TALIS reports has been on lower secondary education, but this new volume extends the picture to both primary and upper secondary teachers. In doing so, it reveals that the challenges and work of teachers vary significantly across levels of education. In addition, by expanding the coverage to these new levels of education, we are able to explore whether education systems can provide students with quality educational opportunities across all levels. Findings and analyses were selected based on the goals of each educational level, while keeping in mind what information will be most useful for education systems in a post-COVID-19 world.

In primary education, one of the most revealing findings concerns the transition of students from pre-primary levels to more formal learning and higher-order skills. TALIS 2018 shows that less than half of the teachers in primary education had training in managing students’ transitions from pre-primary to primary. Analysis also shows that teachers who use transition skills, such as facilitating play in the classroom, were able to implement cognitive stimulating skills. In upper secondary education, results showed that vocational and educational training (VET) teachers more frequently engage in practices that stimulate the cognitive skills of students than their non-VET colleagues. Based on these results, I believe that VET instructors have much to offer in disseminating and sharing these practices with their colleagues in general programmes.

Common strengths and challenges were also recognised across all levels. Most notably, a need was expressed for training and infrastructure on the use of information and communication technologies for instruction. Although resources are crucial, they should not be the prime focus for digital instruction. It is more important to understand the pedagogical goals and values of these digital tools, since that will bring us closer to effectively implementing them. It is the task of teachers to make pedagogical sense of these new technologies, and they are irreplaceable in that role.

Finally, let us not lose sight of teachers’ well-being. Our findings show that most teachers are committed workers who love their profession, but that issues outside their core task of teaching (such as administrative work) are a major source of stress. These issues need to be addressed.

This report presents a comprehensive review across three levels of education on the areas to boost and monitor in the teaching profession in order to get the best from our students. In expanding analyses to new educational levels, TALIS 2018 is able to provide relevant data and insights on the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and to continue the debate on how to shape the teaching profession of tomorrow.

Andreas Schleicher

Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary General

Director for Education and Skills

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