2.1.5 Defining and coordinating policy in different education systems and contexts

In federal states and decentralized education systems, subnational education authorities are likely to be the principal policy and decision-makers or to share responsibilities with national authorities. Hence, a national teacher policy must address shared responsibilities for policy development and implementation through coordination across sub national boundaries. Countries such as Brazil, Canada, Nigeria, and the United States (USA) have developed different approaches to harmonizing policies promoting equal access and quality standards while also taking into account the subnational contexts (Boxes 2.5 and 2.6).

Where they appear in federal systems, good teacher policies are frequently defined very generally, recognizing the subnational-level control over teacher and teaching practices. Federal governments’ main tool to harmonize policy nationwide is financial; it is usually tied to defined standards for improving learning or education, with direct or indirect impacts on teacher dimensions.


In Brazil, the National Education Plan (PNE) adopted in 2010 and the Plan for the Development of Education (PDE) cover many education and teacher policy questions. The PDE specifically seeks to strengthen a systemic, nationwide approach to greater equality of access and education quality across Brazil’s many regions and states. Both draw on two previously adopted laws creating national funding mechanisms to achieve greater equality of access and education quality for poorer regions, states and municipalities: the Fund for Primary Education Administration and Development for the Enhancement of Teacher Status (FUNDEF); and the Fund for the Development of Basic Education and Appreciation of the Teaching Profession (FUNDEB), supplemented by the ‘Bolsa Familia’ programme providing cash transfers to families in return for children attending school.

FUNDEF greatly increased federal government investments in education, earmarking 60% of funds for teacher salaries and 40% for school operations. The establishment of a national minimum teacher salary allowed teachers in poor northern states to upgrade their qualifications so that by 2002, almost all teachers had acquired the minimum required training. It also encouraged an influx of fully qualified teachers in those areas, resulting in an increase of 20% in the teacher workforce between 1997 and 2002. The special funds have led to large increases in school enrolments in the poorer northern regions, to a rise in average school attendance among children from the poorest 20% of families and to increases in mathematics scores for students. The PNE and PDE have also led to greater cooperation in initial teacher education and professional development between higher and open education institutions and state and municipal employers of teachers. New education system tools have also been developed to further nationwide coordination in key areas such as teacher education, professional development and teaching resources.

Nigeria’s education sector plan for the period 2011–2015 is subsumed in a “roadmap” published in 2009. Education is a shared responsibility between federal, state and local levels. The Federal Ministry of Education (FME) is responsible for national policy, data collection, uniform standards including quality assurance, curricula development and harmonizing state policies and procedures.

Teacher recruitment, quality, development, motivation and retention along with inadequate infrastructure and instructional resources are identified as challenges in the roadmap, along with general strategies, indicators and timelines grouped in a teacher education and development cluster, and touching upon a range of teacher policy dimensions:

  • Teacher recruitment (including gender parity) and appropriate school staffing
  • Incentives for teacher deployment and school presence in rural areas
  • Implementation of national teacher education policy, frameworks for professional development and teacher induction and mentoring
  • Harmonisation of national and state salary structures
  • Teacher career development
  • Conducive working environments for teachers, including good pupil–teacher ratios
  • Enhanced school head leadership and training.

Although the education sector plan is broad in its coverage, most strategies and indicators are general, with very short timeframes for implementation. A 2012 implementation report highlighted challenges and implementation shortfalls, often attributed to funding issues.

For more information: Brazil: Ministry of Education, Brazil, 2007; Bruns et al., 2012; UNESCO, 2014a; Nigeria: FME, 2009 and 2012; Teacher Task Force, 2011a.


In Canada, teacher policy and programmes are the domain of local school boards and the provinces. Nevertheless, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) provides a forum in which the provincial/territorial ministers of education share information, consult on matters of mutual interest, undertake cooperative initiatives and represent the interests of the provinces/ territories with the federal government and internationally, at all educational levels. CMEC work on teacher policy to date has essentially been limited to harmonizing pan-Canadian standards for teacher certification and assessing credentials of educators trained and recruited from outside Canada.

In the United States, as in Canada, education and therefore teacher policy dimensions are the prerogative of state and local authorities. In recent years, the federal government has tried to influence state and local policies through successive reform initiatives to meet federal criteria (or federally supported core standards elaborated by national professional bodies), using federal block grants. Known as the ‘No Child Left Behind Act’ and the ‘Race to the Top’ initiative of the Obama presidential administration, these aim to improve learners’ outcomes, with a focus on disadvantaged populations, through improved teacher effectiveness and systemic accountability mechanisms. Dimensions of teacher policy directly or indirectly influenced by the criteria and grants at state and local levels include teacher recruitment, professional development, support and assessment; effectiveness and performance based pay; incentives and sanctions affecting employment, remuneration and careers; up to dismissal of teachers and principals if targets are not achieved. Critics of the policy, including many classroom teachers required or pressured to apply teaching methodologies based on testing, decry the overly heavy reliance on standardized test results and emerging ‘value added models’ to measure success, to the detriment of other school and learning factors.

For more information: Canada: CMEC ( 2008 and 2014); Hargreaves and Braun (2013); US Department of Education (2009).

Other policy questions arise in very large and small (especially island) states, often in relation to the sheer size and geographic extent of education in the former (see Box 2.7 for an example from the People’s Republic of China) and the human and financial capacity constraints of the latter.

Gender equality continued

Defining and coordinating policy continued