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  • Author or Editor: Alf Coles x
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A Decolonial Perspective

This short book aims to provide a decolonial critique of dominant global agendas concerning teacher professionalism and to propose new understanding based on the perspectives and experiences of a sample of teachers in Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Rwanda and Tanzania. The book opens by setting out dominant conceptions of teacher professionalism as they appear in the global literature. It then uses Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s three dimensions of coloniality (namely, the coloniality of power, of knowledge and of being) as a framework for considering the legacy of colonialism on teacher professionalism and setting out teachers’ ideas concerning the barriers to and affordances of their professionalism. The main arguments advanced in the book are that a decolonial lens is helpful for contextualizing the perspectives of teachers in the global South; the lived experiences and material conditions of these teachers are often neglected in dominant discourses; it is important to situate the perspectives of teachers in an understanding of local contexts and realities; and, in contrast to deficit discourses that predominate in the global literature, there is much that can be learned about teacher professionalism from teachers in the global South.

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The chapter situates the study with a review of the relevant global literature. It starts by defining teacher professionalism, and then reviews dominant approaches to understanding teacher professionalism, including a rights-based approach championed by UNESCO, a management-driven approach advocated by the World Bank and a social justice approach. The study is situated between a rights-based and critical approach.

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This chapter considers the effects of the foregoing dimensions of coloniality (of power and of knowledge) on teachers’ lives, emotionally and materially. Evidence from this study positions teachers at the ‘sharp end’ of the societal and systemic problems addressed in previous chapters – working with irrelevant and overly challenging curricula, in languages many learners cannot understand, in underfunded and overcrowded classrooms, while receiving an inadequate and undignified salary. Viewing teacher professionalism through the lens of the ‘coloniality of being’ reveals a systematic disregard for the material and emotional well-being of teachers in the global South.

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This chapter provides a rationale for viewing teacher professionalism in the global South in its wider sociocultural and economic context, with due attention to the colonial experience and ongoing condition of ‘coloniality’ which continues to shape education. In the global education policy space, dominant models of teacher professionalism are grounded in the assumptions and agendas of Northern actors and institutions. It is argued that understandings of teacher professionalism should be grounded in the perspectives, experiences and conditions of teachers in low- and middle-income countries in the global South. The chapter introduces Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s understanding of ‘coloniality’, which will be used to frame the analysis and arguments in later chapters.

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This chapter draws on the concept of ‘coloniality of knowledge’ to demonstrate the ways in which hierarchies of knowledge which privilege Eurocentric epistemologies and worldviews continue to exert a dominating influence on schooling in the global South. The effects of this on teacher professionalism are considered in relation to decontextualized and irrelevant curricula, the status of global versus local languages, challenges relating to the digitization of teaching and learning, and the availability of relevant pre- and in-service professional development opportunities.

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Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s concept of the ‘coloniality of power’ is used to understand the emergence of mass education systems in the global South as a context for teacher professionalism. Here, the coloniality of power refers to the dominance of former colonizing powers in economic and political terms and provides a way of conceiving the state in the context of contemporary globalization. The main arguments developed in this chapter are that global discourses do not consider the colonial and postcolonial legacies in how teacher professionalism is defined, understood and implemented. Teacher professionalism has developed under very different conditions in formerly colonized as compared to formerly colonizing countries. The chapter goes on to consider how the coloniality of power shapes national education policy in formerly colonized countries, including the increasing privatization of education.

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This chapter draws together the evidence and analysis from the study to present a practitioner-led model of teacher professionalism in the global South which builds on previous work by UNESCO and Education International. In advancing understandings of teacher professionalism in these contexts, this study illustrates the importance of engaging with teachers’ perspectives and voices to inform global debates and decision making.

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The chapter starts by setting out the research questions guiding the study. It explains the comprehensive, systematic, critical, accessible and decolonial approach used to review the global literature. It then sets out the co-creative approach that was used in working with teachers to develop the book. It explains the sampling approach for selecting teachers in each country, provides an overview of the phases of research and research methods used and provides a contextual background to the study.

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