Worlds of Education

Photo: Maria Fleischmann / World Bank
Photo: Maria Fleischmann / World Bank

“Is the World Bank taking the right approach to ensure #successfulteachers?”, by David Edwards

published 30 January 2019 updated 25 February 2019
written by:

Critical questions on the Bank’s new classroom observation tool, Teach.

Tomorrow, the World Bank launches Teach. This teacher observation tool assesses teaching quality according to a Bank-developed quality framework. Education International is concerned that Teach could have unintended consequences that impede and undermine the work and professional autonomy of teachers. Let me explain why.

1. How can it be that the Bank has developed a tool on teacher quality without teachers?

Teach has been developed without adequate involvement of the teaching profession. EI, the voice of over 32 million teachers around the world, were not once during the two years invited to give input related to the construction of the tool. The Bank proudly asserts that the Teach team includes a teacher (Molina et al. 2018a, p.6), yet on closer inspection, that individual is not an elected representative of the teaching profession nor an experienced classroom teacher, but someone who has spent 2 years [1] involved in Teach for America before moving on to other things. The “Teach” manual specifies that before the introduction of Teach in any national setting, there is an “in-depth consultation with government officials, development partners or researchers” – but what about teachers and their unions?

I should not have to point out that the Incheon declaration calls for teachers’ full participation in the development and evaluation of education policy. Why is there no teacher voice amongst the economists in tomorrow’s panel discussing how to achieve the SDG target on teachers? I implore the Bank to start listening to and respecting the views of the profession that it seeks to support.

2. When will the Bank stop undermining teacher professionalism?

Professional autonomy is one of the cornerstones of quality education as teachers use their expert judgement to choose the methods and materials that are most relevant to their particular students. Teach, however, undermines professional autonomy, as it suggests that the Bank knows what works in any classroom setting better than a teaching professional.

Teaching observations, when conducted by experienced professional experts and used formatively, can be useful for teachers’ professional development. Additionally, peer-to-peer observations by teachers followed by mentoring and coaching through professional communities of practice are proven to enhance teaching practices. However, Teach is designed to be used by observers who are average citizens with no teaching experience, trained for just 4 days [2].  If the Bank agrees that teachers are professionals, then they must respect certain standards for professional evaluation. Or would a Bank economist accept having their appraisal conducted by any random citizen, untrained in economics?

3. The Bank says that this tool is not about teacher surveillance. But if ownership and use of observation data is up to the countries in question, how can this be ensured?

We have strong concerns about teacher surveillance and their right to privacy. To what extent will teachers’ anonymity be guaranteed, both when appearing in training videos or when observers share the results of their assessments? The “Teach” manual instructs observers to assure teachers (in order to gain access to their classrooms) that teacher identity will “remain entirely confidential”. Yet, whether this can be truly assured is unclear as ultimately the Bank has no control over how national governments choose to use the data collected through the tool. For-profit private companies may well be involved in the collection, processing and storing of teacher data and could have interests which conflict with labour and human rights.

4. Back to basics: should the Bank be defining teacher quality across the globe?

Teach includes the measurement of three areas (classroom culture, instruction and socio-emotional skills) and 28 behaviours that, together with adequate time-spent-on-task, for the World Bank, constitutes “quality teaching practice”. Many of these ‘behaviours’ teachers are happy to see on the list, such as, for example, gender sensitivity, critical thinking and social and emotional skills. However, what legitimacy has the Bank to categorically define teacher quality cross-nationally?

There is currently no clear consensus in the literature as to what constitutes perfect pedagogy. Furthermore, successful teaching methods may vary from country to country. The Bank maintains that Teach avoids the pitfalls of past one-size-fits-all observation tools as countries can add to the core tool according to their priorities. However, is this enough? Teach aims to “develop a common language for analysis of teacher practices” based on “universal experiences that lead to learning” (Molina et al. 2018a, p.4) but the tool was created using existing observation tools from the United States as its starting point (Molina 2018a, p.6),

As Tabulawah showed in Botswana, when new teaching practices from abroad are pushed on to teachers without their support or an adequate understanding of the socio-historical context, the reforms are likely to be unsuccessful (Tabulawah, 1997). Teacher assessment tools should be developed locally in collaboration with teacher unions; there are strong neo-colonial overtones when a tool is developed in Washington to be used in the global south, especially as, with this tool, the Bank not only assesses teachers but seeks to influence what happens on the ground in foreign classrooms.

5. Will the tool’s simple rubric be an accurate judge of teacher quality? And is there a risk that the assessments could be used unfairly against teachers?

Teach was designed to be a “simple, easy to administer tool”. Starting with 43 elements, it was then reduced to 14 and then 10 elements, eliminating elements which were deemed unobservable. To what extent does the Bank’s framework for teaching quality reflect what can be easily measured rather than what is most important for quality teaching? The assessment itself occurs through 2x15 minute observationsand 3x1-10 second snapshots, but can a teachers’ value be determined in just minutes? The Teach manual instructs observers to assure teachers that the assessment will “not be used for evaluation purposes”. Yet, there is still a danger that the assessments can be misused, and for punitive action to be taken unfairly against teachers as a result.

Conclusions – Teach: an ineffective tool to support quality teaching

Teach aims to “foster measurement of teaching practices in low- and middle-income countries”. But what is the value of measurement for measurement’s sake? Validation of the tool  (or rather auto-validation as the research - Molina et al. 2018b -  was conducted by the Teach team) supposedly shows the quality of the assessment. However, there is no evidence  that this teacher assessment tool actually improves teaching practices. If the Bank is genuinely serious about evidence-based interventions, why not base its work on the large body of literature that demonstrates that quality teaching is a consequence not of teacher surveillance but of quality teacher education, quality working conditions and a high status attractive profession?


Molina et al. (2018a). Evidence Based Teaching: Effective practices in Primary School Classrooms. Teach Classroom Observation Tool Background Paper. World Bank Group.

Molina et al. (2018b). Measuring Teaching Practices at scale: Results from the Development and Validation of the Teach Classroom Observation Tool. Teach Classroom Observation Tool Background Paper. World Bank Group.

Tabulawa, R. (1997). Pedagogical practice and the social context: the case of Botswana. International journal of Education Development. (17:2), 189-204.

[1] At the secondary level even though Teach currently focuses on primary education.

[2] By local implementers (teaching experience not required) who in turn are trained by Bank trainers (2 years training experience but no teaching experience required).

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.