Reconsidering Teachers’ Roles (IX). Ferran Ruiz Tarragó: The Usual Suspects? Teachers, Their Challenges and Development

Notes from the UOC UNESCO Chair in e-Learning VIII International Seminar: Teacher Training: Reconsidering Teachers’ Roles, held in Barcelona, Spain, on October 6-7, 2011. More notes on this event: eLChair11.

Ferran Ruiz Tarragó, Expert in and author of books on ICT and Education, President of the Education Council of Catalonia, Spain
The Usual Suspects? Teachers, Their Challenges and Development


Are there any “usual suspects” that are responsible of the ills of education?

Usually, teachers are suspects of:

  • School failure, low employability and youth poor cultural level.
  • Countries’ por results in comparative studies (e.g. PISA).
  • Incivic and violent behaviour of some youth.
  • The feeble success of reform and innovation policies.

  • Not working hard enough while looking to meet their convenience.

But, what are the hard facts about education?

Teachers belong to a professional bureaucracy:

  • Rules and regulations.
  • Knowledge-based division of labour.
  • Standarization of the activity.
  • Professional autonomy.
  • Almost flat authority structure.
  • formal access to the profession.

And this bureaucracy is set to provide a public service in great demand: education. But this bureaucracy system is very inflexible when it comes to adapting to new times and innovating. Change comes slowly and painfully Henry Mintzberg.

In 1893, Charles Eliot and his team made up the US secondary school curriculum subjects, which, with minor changes, still applied today in most places in the world. But the world has certainly changed in the last 120 years. So, does this curriculum makes sense any more?

Peter Senge in Schools That Learn (2000) fragmented academic subjects transform us in master reductionists, instead of going to school and being able to develop ourselves by working in the things that matter to us.

Andreas Shcleicher, in the Lisbon Council Policy Brief (2006) states that education is no more a place to share and build knowledge: Education is far from being a knowledge industry as it doesn’t transform according to knowledge of its practices.

And the worst part of it is that private sector interests are redefining what we understand by education, by performance, by excellence, by efficiency. A redefinition where “measuring” becomes of greatest importance. Measuring that inevitably leads towards standardization and goal setting based on those standards. Raising the scores becomes the total priority. And, according to Campbell (Campbell’s Law, 1976), The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

If a business reflects its manager (Ohmae, THe mind of the strategist, 1982), then the usual suspects of the educational system might not be their teachers, but their managers and administrators, and the policy-makers that put them there. The business models based on XXIth century ‘managerial capitalism’ have reached the limits of their adaptive range, Shoshana Zuboff (Creating value in the age of distributed capitalism, 2010). And the same is happening in education, that has been managed as a firm and cannot adapt to new times any more. A new logic based on the individual is now needed.

Onora O’Neill The real focus is on performance indicators for ease of measurement and control (A question of trust, 2002).


  1. Teachers should be aware that they are requested to be excellent in an outdated system. Must be highly committed in spite of conditions that preclude excellence. Managers & decision-makers should make deep change possible. We have to confront the myth of the extraordinary teacher.
  2. Teachers should widen the scope of their professional mission regarding students. Centre on youth development, community and sense of purpose, not just subject-matter instruction. Have to prepare students for the future, not for the past. Engage in deep and massive research and development.
  3. Teachers should fight for intelligent accountability. Confront publicly the illusion that numbers never lie. Engage collectively on improving compete3ncy-base assessment of student learning. Put forward proposals for comprehensive and equilibrated accountability of their own work.


Edem Adubra: is there a role for planning education while not interfering with teachers’ independence? Ruiz Tarragó: it surely is about being humble and willing to work together. If policy-makers aim at imposing their points of view, then there is no way on both planning and keeping independence. But it the processes are co-built by different stakeholders of the educational system, and bases on what is really an effective possibility, then changes can be made, the system can evolve and notwithstanding disruptions can be avoided and consensus reached.

More information


UOC UNESCO Chair in Elearning VIII International Seminar: Teacher Training: Reconsidering Teachers' Roles (2011)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2011) “Reconsidering Teachers’ Roles (IX). Ferran Ruiz Tarragó: The Usual Suspects? Teachers, Their Challenges and Development” In ICTlogy, #97, October 2011. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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