Teacher Professionalism in Flemish Policy on Teacher Education: A Critical Analysis of The Decree on Teacher Education (2006) in Flanders, Belgium

Aug. 25, 2008

Source: Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, Volume 14, Issue 4, August 2008 , pages 283 - 294
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper uses the new Decree on teacher education in Flanders, Belgium, as a case study to critically examine the changes in the conception of teacher professionalism in education policy. In this examination, the focus is on the 'form of problematisation' (Foucault) that is enacted in the texts of the Decree. It will be claimed that the Decree reflects the movement from a profession-oriented to a market-oriented form of problematisation of teaching and teacher education. The new conception of teacher professionalism will be identified at four levels in the new Decree on teacher education: (1) the definition of the teacher (and her training) as a strategic policy target, (2) the structural reform of teacher education, (3) the qualitative reform of teacher education, and (4) the organizational framing of institutes for teacher education.

(1) Teachers and their training as strategic policy targets
The profession-oriented policies problematise teacher education as a matter of institutional and professional autonomy. However, market-oriented policies problematise it in terms of the institutes' attempt to consolidate their power/monopoly and to resist responsiveness to the needs of the market.

(2) The structural reform of teacher education
The market-oriented problematisation can also be observed in the reform of the structures in teacher education. The new policy strategies want to provide both a sufficient and effective teaching force. Different from the 'centralised' manpower planning strategies of the 1960s and 1970s, these strategies assume that market mechanisms are the best way to 'produce' a sufficient number of effective teachers, and that government should 'manage' (i.e. create and regulate such markets through a policy of deregulation, marketisation and responsibilisation).
Hence, the current problematisation in terms of choice, attractiveness and flexibility is
part of 'deregulated' instead of 'centralised' manpower planning strategies.

(3) The qualitative reform of teacher education
At the level of the qualitative reform, aimed at by the Decree on teacher education, the market-oriented problematisation can be identified as well.

Firstly, the new Decree puts forward the 'unity of teacher education' (and one single teacher certificate) based on the idea that the 'goals and basic competencies' are the same for all teachers.

Secondly, the new regulation stresses that the unified structure provides at the same time a framework for 'flexible learning trajectories'. The diversity of programs, rooted in the professional and institutional autonomy of the university and the Higher Education Colleges, is thus reduced and reformulated in terms of a flexible system of learning trajectories that meets the diverse demands of the student population.

Finally, the new Decree stresses that becoming a teacher is clearly no longer perceived as a process where candidates should first acquire (theoretical) expertise and (educational) values that have to be applied in a next phase. This perception was clearly part of the profession-oriented problematisation, but it is no longer part of the market-oriented problematisation. The latter one starts from what is needed by the demand-side, i.e. the competencies that are at stake in the practice of teaching, and these competencies determine learning trajectories of future teachers.

(4) Organizational units in the teacher education landscape
Both the unitary structure and the common framework of professional profiles and competencies make it not only possible but also appropriate for diverse teacher education institutes to collaborate. The government purposefully promotes forms of collaboration by financing so-called expertise networks (Flemish Parliament, 2006, pp. 7-8). In order to get government funding, a network needs to include the structural involvement of all different types of training institutes and programmes. This financing policy is in line with the overall policy style and agenda for decentralisation, deregulation, and the striving towards a more rational use of resources, infrastructure and staff.

Based on this analysis, the paper concludes that 'profession-oriented virtues' (expertise, responsibility and autonomy) are replaced by 'entrepreneurial' or 'market-oriented' virtues (competency/effectiveness, responsiveness and flexibility).

Flemish Parliament. (2006). Ontwerp van Decreet betreffende de lerarenopleidingen in Vlaanderen. (Zitting 2005–2006, 13 July 2006, stuk 924, no. 1) [Draft of Decree on teacher education in Flanders]. Brussels: Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap, Departement Onderwijs.

Foucault, M. (1984). Polemics, politics and problematizations: An interview with Michel Foucault. In P. Rabinow (Ed.), The Foucault reader (pp. 381–390). New York: Pantheon Books.

Updated: Feb. 12, 2009