by Gabriela Moriconi
Thomas J. Alexander fellow to TALIS in the Directorate for Education and Skills
I have mostly good memories of my high school years in São Paulo, but among them I have one that might sound bizarre. There was never any toilet paper in the school restrooms. Back then, someone explained to me that the reason behind this was vandalism. Students would perform various acts of vandalism, such as making little balls of wet paper to throw at the ceiling or to clog up the toilets. My school was not considered particularly “difficult”. In fact, I had to compete with other students to study in that school, because it was considered one of the best public schools in my hometown, São Paulo. Recently, I learned that this remains a very common concern in Brazilian public schools.
Although this may seem like a rather insignificant issue, I think it reflects two major problems in Brazilian education: widespread poor disciplinary climate and the incapacity to deal with it. Teachers in Brazil report spending the largest proportions of their class time on maintaining order among the 24 countries that participated in the 2008 OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS). And as the example above illustrates, dealing with the root of the problem is often avoided – rather the solution is usually to sidestep confrontations and place the blame on someone – especially students, parents or teachers – which then leads to an even more negative environment for students.
As a fellow participating in the OECD Thomas J. Alexander Fellowship Programme, I am developing research that focuses on analysing the proportion of class time that teachers spend keeping order in the classroom. The study includes in-depth analyses of new TALIS 2013 data and will also include a case-study approach.
Using TALIS 2013 data, I am examining what factors lead to time spent by teachers to maintain discipline in the classroom. We would expect that teachers spend more time maintaining discipline in classes with higher percentages of students with behavioural problems, however there are other factors at stake. This research will identify teacher and school profiles, and policies under which teachers spend less class time disciplining students. For example, teachers who are more experienced, who participate in professional development activities concerning classroom management, and who count on high levels of co-operation among school staff may be found to spend less time keeping order in the classroom.
The data analysis work is taking place at the OECD headquarters where I am working closely with the TALIS team and other colleagues in the Directorate for Education and Skills. On a personal level, this fellowship has given me the opportunity to learn about how the OECD conducts research and to share knowledge and experiences with colleagues from many parts of the world. Through the case-study, I will also be able to learn about particular policies aimed at improving disciplinary climate and the use of class time in education systems, which will enhance my qualifications to work as a researcher and a policymaker in Brazil.
In a wider context I hope that the results of this research will provide evidence-based direction to policymakers, school leaders and educators internationally, and for Brazil in particular, in dealing with disciplinary issues and improving the use of class time.
The OECD is now accepting applications for the Thomas J. Alexander Fellowship Programme. If you have a good idea on how to improve education in your country, send your application by 20 December 2013.