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date: 01 October 2020

Teacher Education Reform in the Asia-Pacific Region

Summary and Keywords

Among the numerous education reforms initiated in the Asia-Pacific Region (the “Region”) at the turn of the 21st century, there were teacher education reforms that aimed to equip teachers with new competence to help discharge their professional duties and expand their roles and responsibilities, and to implement new education initiatives as change agents. In such context, teacher education involves not only teachers’ pre-service training, but also all kinds of in-service or lifelong professional development and learning.

Since the early 2000s, the nine trends of education reform at the macro, meso, site and operational levels have raised various challenges for policy-makers, researchers, and educators who had to re-think the theories, practices, and policies of teacher education reform in their countries and within the Region. Many education systems in the Region have also experienced three waves of education reform that followed different paradigms and had strong implications for teacher education reform. But even though a lot of resources have been invested in these reforms, people in many countries are still disappointed with the quality and performance of their teaching profession and teacher education systems in view of the increasing challenges from globalization, economic transformation, and international competition.

Given the complexities of education reform and the serious concerns about teaching quality, an overview of the key reform issues is needed to draw insights for future development of research, policy analysis, and practice in teacher education reform in the Region and beyond. In particular, the issues related to and implications from the nine trends of education reforms, the paradigm shifts across the three waves, the changes in policy concerns, and the decline in education demands in the Region are analyzed.

Keywords: teacher education, teacher education reform, education reforms, Asia-Pacific Region, education research, trends of education, paradigm shift in education, profession development, new learning, 21st-century competence

Introduction

The Region is one of the parts of the world with the fastest development, and there is intensive international attention on its development and growth. The Region covers a wide range of developing and developed economies in East Asia (e.g., China, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, and Taiwan), North Asia (e.g., Russia), South Asia (e.g., Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka), Southeast Asia (e.g., Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), Australasia (e.g., Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, and New Caledonia), and the Pacific Islands (e.g., Fiji, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu). There are significant variations across the economies in the Region in terms of demographic characteristics of population, geographic size and location, stage and performance of economic development, as well as political, historical, and cultural contexts (International Monetary Fund [IMF], 2017).

Facing the worldwide challenges of globalization, technology breakthrough, international competition, economic transformation, and local demands for development, numerous education reforms have been initiated in the Region and other parts of the world since the beginning of the 21st century (Cheng & Townsend, 2000). Paradigm shift in education was often emphasized in these reforms with the aim of enhancing the future competitiveness and development of young people and society (Abbas, Bharat, & Rai, 2013; Irez & Han, 2011; Keyser & Broadbear, 2010).

As key actors in education and related reforms, teachers in the Region have to face many new changes and uncertainties in the internal and external environments in which they discharge their professional duties (Committee on Professional Development of Teachers and Principals [COTAP], 2015; Tan & Liu, 2015). In addition to teaching, they are often required to take up expanded roles and responsibilities related to school management, curriculum planning and development, new teacher mentoring, staff development, school-based projects, and cooperation with parents, outside leaders, and professionals (Cheng, 2015; Cheng, Tam, & Tsui, 2002; Forde & Mcmahon, 2015). In this context, teacher education may have a broader meaning that involves not only teacher’s pre-service training, but also all kinds of in-service and lifelong professional development and learning (COTAP, 2015).

Following international trends of education reform, many countries or areas in the Region have initiated various measures to reform teacher education since the 1990s (Cheng & Townsend, 2000; Morris & Williamson, 1998; United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], 2008). Many papers were also produced to report on the various national initiatives that aimed to improve the practice and effectiveness of teacher education at different levels. Some examples and national cases of these reforms in the Region can be found in Arimoto (2004), Cheng and Chow (2004), Kim (2004), Lee (2004), Walia (2004), and Wang (2004).

In view of the increasing impacts from globalization, economic transformation and international competition in the 21st century, many countries in the Region are still disappointed with the quality and performance of their teaching profession and teacher education systems even though a lot of resources have been invested in teacher education reforms since the early 2000s. Stakeholders such as policymakers, community leaders, educators, and researchers in the Region may be interested to know what lessons can be learned and shared from these teacher education reforms in the Region (Cheng, Chow & Mok, 2004) so as to avoid similar failures and enhance teacher quality and performance in their respective countries. Specifically it would be meaningful to explore and discuss the following issues in policymaking, practical implementation, and academic research of teacher education:

  1. (1) How can teachers in the Region be equipped with new professional competencies to take on new roles and meet new needs and challenges in current education reforms toward new learning for the 21st century (Beetham & Sharpe, 2013; Noweski et al., 2012)?

  2. (2) What are the key issues and trends in teacher education reforms in light of the trends of reforms and paradigm shifts in education in the Region (Cho, 2012; Kiprop & Verma, 2013; Tan & Liu, 2015)?

  3. (3) What implications can be drawn for future research and development of teacher education reform in the Region (Cheng, 2009; Kiprop & Verma, 2013)?

Given the complexities of education reform in the Region in general, and teacher education reform in particular, there is a strong need for an overview of the key reform issues to draw insights for future development of research, policy analysis, and practice in teacher education reform. This article aims to meet this need and explore the above key issues. However, it does not provide detailed description, review, and comparative study of teacher education systems in the Region.

Although there were serious concerns about teacher education and its reforms in the 2000s in the Region (UNESCO, 2008), these concerns have nevertheless only been primarily examined from a static or descriptive perspective. Many educators and researchers have failed to analyze the various problems in light of the paradigm shift in education that has occurred since start of the 21st century, triggered by rapid globalization and information technology intensification. Accordingly, an analysis of teacher education reform in the context of paradigm shift in school education or trends of education reforms may provide a more dynamic perspective to understand the complexities in developing new professional competencies for teachers to facilitate new learning of students in the 21st century (Abbas, Bharat, & Rai, 2013; Beetham & Sharpe, 2013; Kiprop & Verma, 2013; Longworth, 2013; Noweski et al., 2012).

Nine Trends and Teacher Education Reforms

Since the beginning of the 21st century, there have been nine major trends of education reforms occurring at the operational, site, meso, and macro levels of the educational systems in the Region (Cheng & Townsend, 2000; see Table 1).

At the operational level, the main trends were (1) toward using information technology and other new technologies in learning, teaching, and management, and (2) toward making a paradigm shift in learning, teaching, and assessment.

At the site level, the trends were (3) toward ensuring educational quality, standards, and accountability, (4) toward increasing decentralization and school-based management, and (5) toward enhancing teacher quality and lifelong professional development of teachers and principals.

At the meso level, the salient trend was (6) toward increasing parental and community involvement in education and management.

At the macro level, the trends of reforms included (7) re-establishing a new national vision and education aims, (8) restructuring education systems at different levels, and (9) market driving, privatizing, and diversifying education.

How should teacher education be changed to follow the trends of these reforms, provide appropriate support to facilitate changes in teaching and learning, and enhance education effectiveness and relevance for the future? Or, what are the major implications and challenges presented by these trends of reform for policy formulation, practice, and research of teacher education reform in the Region? Table 1 summarizes the key implications and challenges for teacher education reform based on the ground work of Cheng, Chow, and Mok (2004).

The operational performance and outcomes of education depend mainly on teacher quality and competence (Barber & Mourshed, 2007). When thinking about teacher education reforms at the operational level, educators, researchers, and policymakers in the Region may be concerned with the following issues: (1) what new teacher quality and competence are needed to facilitate paradigm shift in teaching and learning, and to enhance the relevance of education to the future (Cheng, 2015; Tan & Liu, 2015); (2) what kind of teacher education and related measures can equip teachers with new professional quality and competence for new paradigm education (Cho, 2012; Kiprop & Verma, 2013); and (3) how teacher education can be changed to develop teachers’ new competence in using information technology and new technology for paradigm shift in education (UNESCO, 2007; Zhang & Xu, 2015).

Table 1. Key Challenges to Teacher Education Reforms in the Region

Levels

Trends of education reforms

Key challenges to teacher education reforms

Operational

  1. 1. Toward paradigm shift in learning, teaching, and assessment.

  2. 2. Toward using information technology and other new technologies in learning, teaching, and management.

  • What are the new teacher quality and competence needed to facilitate paradigm shift in teaching and learning, and enhance the relevance of education to the future?

  • What kind of teacher education and related measures can equip teachers with new professional quality and competence for new paradigm education?

  • How can teacher education be changed to develop teachers’ competence in using information technology and new technology for paradigm shift in education?

Site

  1. 3. Toward ensuring education quality, standards, and accountability.

  2. 4. Toward decentralization and school-based management.

  3. 5. Toward the enhancement of teacher quality and lifelong professional development of teachers and principals.

  • How can teachers be equipped with professional competence in quality assurance and accountability with high standards?

  • What kind of teacher education is needed to ensure effectiveness of teachers in serving diverse expectations in education and implementing school-based management?

  • How can new school leadership be developed to lead school-based management and education reforms to meet various challenges?

Meso

  1. 6. Toward parental and community involvement in education and management.

  • How can teachers and school leaders be trained to manage and facilitate various initiatives of parental participation and community partnership for school education?

Macro

  1. 7. Toward reestablishing new national vision and education aims.

  2. 8. Toward restructuring education system at different levels.

  3. 9. Toward market-driving, privatizing, and diversifying education.

  • How should teacher education systems and institutions be restructured in response to new aims, paradigm shifts, and reforms in education?

  • How should the provision of teacher education be planned, resourced, and managed to meet the changing and increasing demands in a fairer and more efficient way?

Source: Adapted from Cheng, Chow, and Mok (2004).

The professional competence of teachers required at the site level is quite different from that related to teaching and learning at the operational level (Advisory Committee on Teacher Education and Qualifications [ACTEQ], 2003). At the site level, the challenges to teacher education reforms may include: (1) how can teachers be equipped with professional competence in quality assurance and accountability with high standards (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards [NBPTS], 2016)? (2) what kind of teacher education is needed to enhance the effectiveness of teachers in serving diverse expectations in education and in implementing school-based management (COTAP, 2015)? and (3) how new school leadership (of teachers and principals) can be developed to lead school-based management and education reforms in a fast-changing environment (Cheng, 2011; Cheng, Ko, & Lee, 2016; COTAP, 2015).

In view of the reform trend of increasing participation of parents in decision-making and partnership with the local community in school activities at the meso level of the education system, another key concern in the Region and beyond is how to develop the capacity of school leaders (including principals and teachers) to manage the complexities and difficulties presented by parental participation and community partnership in school education (Department of Education, Employment, and Workplace Relations [DEEWR], 2018; Sanders, 2014).

At the macro level of education reform, policymakers and community leaders in the Region are more concerned about the articulation of teacher education reforms to the new vision of the national plan and the restructuring of the education system in the 21st century. In particular, efforts are being made to address the following two issues:

  1. (1) How should teacher education systems and institutions be restructured in response to new aims, paradigm shifts, and reforms in education (Arimoto, 2004; Cheng & Chow, 2004; Kim, 2004)?

  2. (2) How should the provision of teacher education be planned, resourced, and managed to meet the changing and increasing demands in a fairer and more efficient way (Walia, 2004; Wang, 2004)?

Since there are nine trends of education reform and within each trend there are many new initiatives, a challenging issue to be addressed in the research and implementation of teacher education reform is how to ensure all these new initiatives can be mutually consistent, synergic, and supportive instead of mutually conflicting and wasteful (Cheng, 2018).

A Typology of Three-Wave Paradigms

In addition to the nine trends, education reforms in the Region have experienced three waves since the 2000s (Cheng, 2007). The discussion on teacher education reforms in the Region may be presented in terms of a typology of three-wave paradigms as shown in Table 2 (Cheng, 2009, 2012). Under different waves, different paradigms may be used to think about the environment, conceptualize the nature of learning and the role of teachers, and formulate initiatives for improvement and development at different levels of the education system. Therefore, the implications and issues in relation to studying the theory, policy, and practice of teacher education and developing strategies for its related reforms may also be different across the three waves.

Table 2. A Typology of Three-Wave Paradigms on Teacher Education Reform

First-wave paradigm

Second-wave paradigm

Third-wave paradigm

About the environment

  • Maintaining an industrial society.

  • Comparatively stable.

  • Predictable with few uncertainties and competition.

  • Education provision and content under centralized manpower planning.

  • School management under external control by bureaucracies.

  • Minimal school autonomy.

  • Serving a commercial and consumption society.

  • Unstable and fast-changing with lots of uncertainties and competition.

  • Education provision and content mainly driven by competition and marketization.

  • School-based management with accountability framework and stakeholder participation.

  • Bounded school autonomy with central monitoring and external review.

  • Toward a lifelong learning and multiple development society.

  • Fast-changing with impacts from internationalization and technology advances.

  • Education provision and content mainly characterized by globalization, localization, and individualization.

  • Toward world-class school management with both local and global relevance.

  • School autonomy with local and international benchmarking.

Movements and reforms

Effective school movements

To improve the internal process and performance of schools in order to enhance the achievements of planned goals of education.

Quality school movements

To ensure the quality and accountability of educational services provided by schools, meeting multiple stakeholders’ expectations and needs.

World-class school movements

To ensure the relevance and world-class standards of education to the development of students and society for the future.

Nature of learning

A process of students receiving knowledge, skills, and cultural values from teachers and curriculum.

A process of students receiving a service provided by the school and teachers.

A process of students developing contextualized multiple intelligence for multiple and sustainable development.

Role of teacher

Teachers instruct and deliver knowledge.

Teachers provide educational services.

Teachers facilitate multiple and sustainable development.

Conception of teacher effectiveness

Internal effectiveness: teachers deliver knowledge as planned through their teaching and other internal activities.

Interface effectiveness: teachers satisfy stakeholders with educational services and are accountable to the school and the public.

Future effectiveness: teachers contribute to the multiple and sustainable development of individuals, community, and society for the future.

Key concerns in teacher education reforms

  • How can teacher education and other initiatives ensure that teachers perform effectively to achieve planned goals in the classroom?

  • How can teacher education, professional quality and standards, and the teaching environment be improved to achieve planned goals?

  • How can teacher education ensure the quality of teacher performance to satisfy stakeholders and meet the public’s accountability requirements?

  • How can a market be created in teacher education to encourage competition that drives the service and performance of teachers and schools to a high standard?

  • How can teacher education develop teachers to facilitate students’ new learning, and multiple and sustainable development?

  • How can teacher education and professional learning be globalized, localized, and individualized to create unlimited opportunities for development?

  • How can teacher education create an unbounded platform for teachers’ lifelong professional learning?

Key features of teacher education management

  • Limited central resources are available to meet the mass and diverse demands for quality teachers and education.

  • Teacher education activities are organized by central planning, external control, and top-down and quantitative approaches.

  • The same standards or measures of teacher education are applied across all districts or schools.

  • School-based characteristics and stakeholders’ diverse needs are ignored.

  • The sources of resources and measures are diversified to meet the diverse expectations on teachers.

  • School-based and district-based teacher education is emphasized to meet local needs.

  • A stakeholder-oriented and market-driven approach enhances competition and effectiveness in teacher education.

  • Management is decentralized, but with a strong accountability framework and monitoring measures.

  • Adopting a holistic approach to teacher quality including attracting, developing, empowering, and retaining teachers.

  • Establishing a lifelong and sustainable teacher education and professional training framework for developing a new generation of teachers.

  • Engaging multiple stakeholders and building up local and international partnership to enhance professional training and status.

  • Maximizing the synergy of initiatives to create unlimited opportunities for teachers’ lifelong learning.

Source: Adapted from Cheng (2009, 2012).

First-Wave Reforms

Many education reforms in the Region were initiated to improve the internal processes of schools when basic education systems had been successfully expanded to meet the needs of national economic development efforts since the 1980s. The first wave of education reforms was initiated to make schools more internally effective in meeting the planned education aims and curriculum targets (Cheng, 2007). For example, in Hong Kong, India, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Mainland China, many initiatives in the first wave of education reforms were targeted at improving important factors in internal school processes. Among the targeted factors were school management, teaching quality, curriculum design, teaching methods, evaluation approaches, facilities, and environments for teaching and learning (Gopinathan & Ho, 2000; Kim, 2000; Tang & Wu, 2000).

Under the first wave of reforms, education was assumed to be the delivery of knowledge, skills, and cultural values in the form of a curriculum taught by teachers to students in a comparatively stable industrial (or agricultural) society. Learning was a process in which students received a planned set of knowledge, skills, and cultural values they needed for their future in such a society. Therefore, the teacher’s role was mainly to deliver knowledge (Cheng, 2015). Teacher effectiveness was mainly referred to as internal effectiveness. There were two key concerns in teacher education reform: (1) how teacher education initiatives could ensure that teachers performed effectively to achieve the planned goals of knowledge delivery (ACTEQ, 2003; COTAP, 2015); and (2) how the practices of teacher education could be improved to ensure that teachers are equipped with the necessary professional competence and skills for planned tasks (ACTEQ, 2003; NBPTS, 2016).

The governments of many developing countries in the Region, for example, China, India, Pakistan, Thailand, and Vietnam, had limited resources but faced extensive and diverse demands for quality teachers and professional training (UNESCO, 2008; Walia, 2004; Wang, 2004). The policies of teacher education often involved a top-down approach that emphasized central planning and external control. The initiatives for teacher education tended to be quantitative, input-oriented, and technical. Due to limited resources, these initiatives often ignored school-based characteristics, district-based expectations, and stakeholders’ diverse needs. They tended to apply the same standards or practices across all districts or schools. School stakeholders and local communities were rarely engaged in planning and implementing the initiatives (Cheng, 2009).

Even though a lot of resources and effort were invested in the first wave of education reforms and related teacher education initiatives in the Region, the results from these reforms were often very limited and unable to satisfy the stakeholders’ increasing needs and expectations, and the policies for improving teacher education could not effectively meet the diverse needs and high expectations of policymakers, educators, and other stakeholders.

Second-Wave Reforms

In response to the increasing demands for education accountability and quality from key stakeholders’ expectations in the 1990s, the second wave of education reforms emerged internationally. In Hong Kong, South Korea, India, Mainland China, Singapore, Taiwan, and some other areas in the Region, a growing trend emphasized quality education movements, which focused on quality assurance, school monitoring and review, parental choice, student coupons, marketization, parental and community involvement, school charters, and performance-based funding (Headington, 2000; Mohandas, Meng, & Keeves, 2003; Mok et al., 2003; Mukhopadhyay, 2001; Pang et al., 2003).

Education under the second-wave reforms was perceived as providing an educational service that satisfied the needs and expectations of stakeholders in a competitive market. Learning was a process in which students received certain kinds of educational services and became competitive in the job market. The teacher’s role was mainly to provide educational services and teacher effectiveness was interface effectiveness, defined as stakeholders’ satisfaction with teachers’ educational services, along with teachers being accountable to schools and to the public (Cheng, 2009).

Teacher education initiatives focused on equipping teachers with the necessary professional competence to provide sufficient and high-quality services at the individual, site, and system levels. There were two key concerns of teacher education under the second wave reforms: (1) how teacher education initiatives could ensure the quality of teacher performance to satisfy the diverse needs of stakeholders and meet the public’s accountability requirements (ACTEQ, 2003; COTAP, 2015; NBPTS, 2016); and (2) how a market could be created in teacher education to encourage competition that would drive teachers, schools, and teacher education providers to serve and perform at a high standard (Cheng, 2012).

The second-wave reforms opened up new areas in teacher education reforms, including those related to developing professional competencies for new initiatives in school-based management, school monitoring and self-evaluation, quality inspection, involvement of key stakeholders, accountability to the community, and school development planning (DEEWR, 2018; Headington, 2000; MacBeath, 2000).

Due to limited resources and increasing demands on education, it was difficult to satisfy the expectations of all stakeholders and provide sufficient high-quality teacher education. Therefore some governments diversified the sources of their resources and measures used to provide teacher education. School-based or district-based approaches were quite common in planning and managing teacher education at the site or district level instead of the national or system level (Caldwell, 2003). In some areas of the Region (e.g., Hong Kong, Taiwan), a market-driven approach was gradually employed to enhance competition in managing the provision of professional development for teachers. In addition, the procurement, allocation, and utilization of resources for teacher education was often decentralized to the site level with an accountability framework and monitoring measures (Cheng, 2012). Outsourcing teacher education services also emerged as one of the possible trends in the 2010s (Wekullo, 2017).

Third-Wave Reforms

With the aim of preparing the younger generation to meet the challenges of rapid transformation in an era of globalization and information technology, some policy-makers, educators and scholars in the Region and beyond advocated a paradigm shift in learning and teaching at the beginning of the 21st century (Beetham & Sharpe, 2013; Noweski et al., 2012). They advocated a reform of the aims, content, practice, and management of education to ensure relevance to the future (Abbas, Bharat, & Rai, 2013; Keyser & Broadbear, 2010; Longworth, 2013).

Accordingly, a third wave of education reforms emerged that focused on a new paradigm of education involving contextualized multiple intelligences (CMI), globalization, localization, and individualization (Cheng, 2005). Many initiatives under the third wave pursued new aims in education, developed students’ CMI or 21st-century competencies for sustainable development, emphasized lifelong learning, facilitated global networking and international outlook, and promoted the wide application of information and communication technologies (ICT) in education (Bernat & Mueller, 2013; Finegold & Notabartolo, 2010; Kaufman, 2013; Redecker & Johannessen, 2013; Salas-Pilco, 2013).

Strong trends in globalization and international competition were behind this third wave of education reforms to embrace the notion of world-class education movements. Learning was seen as a process of students developing CMI and high-level competence in order to respond to multiple developments in a fast-changing era. The role of teachers was to facilitate students’ multiple and sustainable development. Teacher effectiveness was defined as future effectiveness, thus highlighting teachers’ contribution to the future development of individuals and the society (Cheng, 2012).

In the third wave, teacher education focused on helping teachers to acquire a new set of professional attributes that could create unlimited opportunities for students to learn and develop new competencies needed for the 21st century and beyond. There were three fundamental concerns in managing teacher education for the teaching profession in the Region:

  1. (1) How could teacher education initiatives develop and empower third-wave teachers to facilitate students’ new learning and multiple and sustainable development (COTAP, 2015; Kaufman, 2013)?

  2. (2) How could the content and practice of teacher education and professional learning be globalized, localized, and individualized in order to create unlimited opportunities for developing teachers’ sustainable and world-class professional competencies (Cheng, 2012; COTAP, 2015; Kiprop & Verma, 2013)?

  3. (3) How could the policies and related practices of teacher education create a learning platform or ecosystem for teachers to continue their lifelong professional learning through networking, ICT, professional learning community, and various other innovations in an era of globalization (Kampylis, Law, & Punie, 2013; Pachler & Redondo, 2015; Ray et al., 2012; UNESCO, 2007; Zhang & Xu, 2015)?

Distinct from the first and second waves, third-wave teacher education reforms were based on a new paradigm of professional development characterized by four key features (Cheng, 2012): (1) a holistic approach was adopted for teacher education that included attracting, developing, empowering, and retaining teachers who have strong intellectual assets and cultural capital (Cheng, 2009); (2) a framework of lifelong and sustainable professional development was established to develop a new generation of teachers with professional standards and competencies needed for the third-wave education reforms and new learning of the 21st century (ACTEQ, 2003); (3) multiple stakeholders were engaged, and local and international partnerships and alliances were formed to enhance teacher education policies, raise the status of teachers, and bring in diverse resources for teacher education (COTAP, 2015); and (4) the synergy between various initiatives in teacher education was maximized to provide more opportunities for teachers to experience lifelong learning through globalization, localization, individualization, and use of ICT and other innovative practices (UNESCO, 2007; Zhang & Xu, 2015).

Across Waves and Trends

In light of different waves or trends of education reforms, the challenges, issues, and implications for research, policymaking, and practice of teacher education reform may be different, as discussed under the sections on different waves of reforms. The typology of three waves and nine trends can provide a comprehensive framework for educators, policymakers, and researchers who want to analyze and understand the complicated issues of teacher education reform not only from the specific perspectives of each wave or each trend, but also from a broad overview across these waves or trends of education reform. Some key reform issues across waves or trends are further discussed below, including paradigmatic gaps, simultaneous multiple reforms, shifts in policy concerns, and decline in student population.

Paradigmatic Gaps

Some areas in the Region (e.g., Hong Kong) encountered difficulties when they tried to achieve third-wave targets (such as CMI, 21st-century competence, and lifelong development) while making great efforts to implement second-wave initiatives (such as marketization, school-based management, and various accountability measures). Many policymakers and school practitioners were often confused and frustrated when facing the paradigmatic gaps and dilemmas in policy formulation and implementation that arose between waves (Cheng, 2013, 2019).

Given the very large scale of systemic reforms needed to move from one wave to the next, there was a strong demand for building a comprehensive knowledge database with sophisticated research to understand the key issues of each wave of reforms as well as the complicated dynamics of paradigm shifts and practical transition across waves of reforms. Without this understanding, many reforms in teacher education might result in failure even if huge amount of resources were invested in them with good intentions. In other words, the three waves of reforms and their paradigm gaps should be one of the key areas of focus for future research and development of teacher education reform and its challenges in the Region.

Simultaneous Multiple Reforms

In view of serious international competition, many areas in the Region were committed to conduct education reforms with a hope to enhance their international competitiveness through improved education. Therefore, when some areas in the Region implemented education reforms, others worried that they would fall behind, and tried to initiate even more changes than their competitors in the Region. As a result, at the turn of the 21st century, many areas in the Region were working hard to implement numerous initiatives to change their education system at different levels in short periods of time, as represented by the nine trends of education reforms.

Unfortunately, there was emerging evidence of negative impacts resulting from these concurrent reforms, particularly those related to the second wave, on the education system and teachers in some areas in the Region (e.g., Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Malaysia). Problems that potentially damaged teachers’ well-being and working conditions typically included over competition from marketization, close control from accountability measures, increasing workload from numerous initiatives, deprofessionalization from over management and monitoring, and high pressure from uncertainties and ambiguities in education environment (Cheng, 2013, 2018).

Since so many extensive initiatives were proposed and implemented at different levels in such a short period of time, there was a strong need for comprehensive education research to guide and support policy formulation and implementation, and facilitate understanding of the policy impacts of simultaneous reforms on the ecology of the education environment and working conditions of teachers.

Shifts in Policy Concerns

Following the three waves and nine trends of education reforms in the Region, there may have been some possible shifts in policy concerns of teacher education reform as shown in Table 3 (Cheng, 2007, 2009, 2012). People in the Region were traditionally concerned with the quantitative provision of teacher education (e.g., numbers of teachers, hours of professional training, numbers of programs or workshops, etc.) during the period of education expansion. After the successful implementation of universal basic education, their emphasis may have shifted toward the qualitative aspects of teacher education (e.g., quality of professional learning, high-level professional qualifications, curriculum quality, relevance of teacher training activities to the future needs, etc.).

Table 3. Possible Shifts in Policy Concerns of Teacher Education

Policy concerns of teacher education

From traditional concerns

Toward new concerns

Provision of teacher education

  • Quantity

  • Quality

Locus of policy control on teacher education reform

  • Local developments

  • Internal competition

  • Regional developments and globalization

  • International competition

Conception of policy problems in teacher education and its reform

  • Simplistic

  • Complex

Structure of policy factors and variables of teacher education management

  • Static

  • Linear

  • Hierarchical

  • Interactive

  • Networked

  • Hybrid

Perspectives of policy development on teacher education reform

  • Static

  • Mechanical

  • Short term

  • Dynamic

  • Ecological

  • Long term

Management of policy implementation in teacher education

  • Standardization

  • Centralization

  • Maintenance

  • Control

  • Diversification

  • Decentralization

  • Development

  • Self-initiative

Source: Adapted from Cheng (2007, 2009) with special focus on teacher education policy.

Traditionally, local developments and internal competition were the driving locus of policy control in teacher education, but following the waves of reforms they may be more concerned about the impacts of globalization, international competition, and regional developments in policy development of teacher education. The conception of policy problems in teacher education was traditionally simplistic with focus mainly on quantitative provision in a stable environment, but it has become more complex, involving complicated factors in qualitative provision in a changing and challenging environment. Traditionally, the structure and relationship between the involved policy factors and variables were assumed to be static, linear, and hierarchical, but following the reforms they were often assumed to be interactive, networked, and hybrid (Cheng, 2007).

In the policy development for teacher education reforms, the perspectives used tended to shift from the static, mechanical, and short-term perspectives to the dynamic, ecological, and long-term perspectives. The management of policy implementation also tended to shift from traditional approaches such as standardization, centralization, maintenance, and control to alternative approaches such as diversification, decentralization, development, and self-initiative.

In view of the above policy shifts, research conceptions and approaches to teacher education reform should apply corresponding paradigm shifts in future development.

Decline in Student Population

According to the World Bank’s (2015) Global monitoring report 2015: Demographic change, the worldwide trend of population growth rate in both developing and high-income countries has been slowing down since the 1970s and will continue to do so until 2050. The declining school-age population created a great transformation in education contexts in the East Asia and Pacific Region. As indicated in the report of UNESCO Institute of Statistics (2006), most countries in this region experienced school-age population decline from 3% to 41% between 2005 and 2015. Countries in this region may see opportunities to save resources and reinvest them into teacher education reforms, including recruiting, developing, empowering, and retaining high-quality teachers to engage in further professional development and educational reform implementation.

In comparison, during the period up to 2015, the South and West Asia Region, including India and Pakistan, required more teachers to implement universal primary education and to meet the needs of their increasing student populations. These areas were experiencing a much more challenging situation than other regions in terms of the need of additional resources in the quantitative provision of teachers and teacher education (Cheng, 2009).

How to allocate the saved resources from the decline in school-age population to teacher education or other areas that can benefit the society most will inevitably become a hot debate topic in policymaking across most parts of the Region.

Concluding Remarks

As different countries or areas in the Region have different historical and contextual constraints on their development, the progress and characteristics of their teacher education reforms may be different and move forward in different waves and patterns. For example, some developing areas of Southeast Asia (e.g., Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, and Laos) may still be in the first wave, struggling to enhance the internal effectiveness of teachers and focusing mainly on providing enough teachers and improving their internal practice of knowledge delivery in light of the first-wave paradigm. Other areas (e.g., China, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand) may be moving forward in the second wave, or be in between the first and the second waves, trying to improve both the internal and the interface effectiveness of teachers through various initiatives of teacher education. In response to the challenges of globalization and the influences of information technology, some developed areas (like Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea) may have entered the third-wave teacher education reforms by focusing on teachers’ future effectiveness (Cheng, 2007).

The key issues emerging from the decline in student population, shifts in policy concerns, paradigm shifts in teaching and learning, and multiple trends of education reforms in the Region are challenging the future development of education research on teacher education reform in most countries. Hopefully, the typology of three waves, nine trends, and other shifts discussed in this article are providing a useful framework and giving meaningful perspectives to policy-makers, educators, and researchers who wish to investigate key reform issues and develop appropriate strategies for teacher education reform in the Region in the 21st century.

Author Note

This article is based on the author’s long-term research project on education reforms in the Asia-Pacific Region. Parts of its materials were adapted from the author’s articles (Cheng, 2007, 2009, 2012) with special focus of analysis on teacher education reform. The article has no intention to provide detailed description, review, and comparative study of teacher education systems in the Region.

To a great extent, the nine trends are mainly in the domains of the second and third waves. Trends 1, 2, 5, 7, and 8 belong to the third wave reform and trends 3, 4, 6, and 9 to the second wave reform. In general, the trends focus on areas of reforms but the waves concern mainly the different paradigms used in the past decades. For the details, please see Cheng (2007).

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