The region needs more and better educated teachers, particularly in the area of artificial intelligence, in order to meet the needs of students in the years ahead.
The lack of qualified teachers is becoming the top hurdle in developing countries as they upgrade their education systems to prepare for the needs of 21st century students.
Many low-income countries and some middle-income countries in Southern Asia need an additional seven million teachers by 2030, including 1.7 million in primary and 5.3 million in secondary education, according to UNESCO.
As these teachers are added in Asia and the Pacific, there is an opportunity to upgrade their level of qualifications and education. This includes embracing the use of artificial intelligence. Recent studies indicate that teachers lack knowledge, tools, and resources for empowering learners and facilitating their digital competencies. For example, many teachers are vaguely aware of AI-based learning and research productivity tools such as ChatGPT.
Artificial intelligence can offer personalized teacher education, provide insights into unique student learning styles and cognitive capacities, and help develop teaching strategies. By integrating AI, we can transform teacher education through the use of 21st century skills.
AI tools can also help students articulate ideas clearly and concisely, freeing teachers to focus on fostering deeper understanding and critical thinking. Furthermore, it has shown promising results in assessing students' understanding, supporting homework and revision, and serving as a conversation tool to challenge and verify information.
ChatGPT can help students – particularly postgraduate students whose first language is not English – express their ideas in academic English, reducing the cognitive burden of translation and allowing them to focus more on the content of their writing.
Many teachers are vaguely aware of AI-based learning and research productivity tools such as ChatGPT.
We should use the latest technological advancements, within a holistic approach, to improve recruitment, initial education, and professional development of teachers. This approach should include the following:
1. Improve the status and social standing of the teaching profession to attract more candidates to the teacher pre-service education programs. Also, teacher salaries must be kept competitive compared to other professions requiring the same level of education and degrees. The incentive schemes should include additional layers of compensation for those teachers who continue to excel and achieve new qualifications and excellence in teaching. Additional economic incentives can be created such as preferential loans (home, consumer loans, etc.).
2. Develop and implement a national policy on teacher education. As an example, the Government of Uzbekistan recently announced that all higher degree (Bachelor’s) programs that educate teachers would be fully funded (i.e., ‘zero’ tuition fees) by the government starting as soon as in 2024. Admission to universities will be merit-based.
3. Teachers must have subject-specific knowledge and relevant digital skills, which must be continually updated with the latest technological advancements such as general artificial intelligence like ChatGPT. New models of teacher education can enhance these teaching competencies and encourage shifts in instructional practices to meet the needs of present-day learners.
4. Practicums – or supervised practical application of teaching practices – should have an important place in teacher education. Their use in different countries offers insights on how they can be structured, how they can link theory with practice, and how they can be organized and guided. Student teachers should be provided with opportunities to create and implement lesson plans in schools where they do their practicums.
5. Professional learning communities in teacher education can focus on how information and communication technology (ICT) can be used to provide teachers with ongoing professional support and to transform education. The versatile use of ICT skills to promote hybrid professional development should be part of all teacher education programs. The government should establish programs that support and fund existing informal professional communities of practice.
6. Promote gender equality in the teacher education programs and promote women to take leadership roles. The government should actively promote programs that raise awareness of the gender issue, for example, by funding campaigns to enlighten and create dialogue with parents (through TV video clips, social media forums, etc.).
The need for teachers is not going to disappear with the advancement of technology. Nor will the challenges we face in relation to equity, access, and quality of teacher education. However, it is urgent that we learn through these experiences, evaluate their impact, and measure positive and negative effects of new ways of working.
How we educate our teachers should stem from deliberate choices. With the help of AI tools, we can also find new innovative ways to scale up teacher education and pass those benefits on to students.