Home | Novidades Revistas Nossos Livros  Links Amigos



Denise Trento de Souza, Ph.D.
Faculdade de Educação – Univ. de São Paulo


This work proposes that since the early eighties a specific strategy has gained increasing importance within official Education Programmes in São Paulo (Brazil) addressed to deal with the high rates of pupil repetition and dropout: the concentration on teachers professional development. We argue that this strategy is based on the idea of teacher’s incompetence as the main explanation for educational problems. This idea pervades both the conceptions of the programmes and their proposed actions and practices. The idea of teacher’s incompetence is present in the mainstream literature, and in the formulation and implementation of official Education Programmes, namely Basic Cycle (CB), Basic Cycle in a Single Shift (CB-JU) and Quality School (EP) undertaken by the São Paulo State Secretariat for Education (SSE). This paper presents some details of the fieldwork carried out in the research project on the theme of Teacher Professional Development (TPD), presented as my PhD thesis. It also presents the main conclusions of that work. The fieldwork was based on a qualitative research method in which the perceptions, expectations, and interrelations of the involved teachers, course monitors and policy makers were extracted from a number of interviews and observations. Our analysis demonstrates the presence of what we identify as the “argument of incompetence”. It takes on different forms according to the context and to the group of the individuals involved in the activities of TPD. The core of the “argument of incompetence” follows a linear logic: “we do not have a good quality school only because we lack teachers of professional competence”. The “argument of incompetence” not only undermines the relations among the main participating agents in teacher professional development, namely, policy makers, course monitors and teachers, but it also promotes a mistaken way of thinking about teacher professional development. Mistaken and simplistic as it promotes a conception of TPD that overestimates its possibilities of dealing with chronic and broader issues of low quality of Brazilian Basic Education without taking the necessary action regarding other vital elements such as suitable conditions of work in schools and teacher’s career development.

Introduction and Some Methodological Issues

In Brazil the dissatisfaction with the basic education system is both historical and consensual. The many unsatisfactory aspects of the Brazilian education system were well documented in the education literature [2] . Until the 60’s the state basic education system was simply not large enough to meet the growing demand, making access to it the privilege of a few [3] . The total number of state school places rose sharply during the two following decades, and it is generally agreed that that problem of access was solved by the late 80’s. Since then the focus of an increasingly general discontentment has been the low quality of the education system as expressed by high rates of repetition and dropout. Reducing these two parameters – that have always characterised the system – was taken as the main challenge facing policy makers.

The improvement of the Brazilian State education system, particularly at the Basic Education level, has been on the agenda of many State governments. Proposals for the solution of the various perceived problems have found their way into various official Education Programmes. The educational policies since the 80’s have stressed their intention of building a better quality schooling. This work investigates the case of the São Paulo State. Three main programmes were launched by the São Paulo State Government from the middle 80’s until the beginning of the 90’s, as follows: Basic Cycle – (CB), Basic Cycle in Single Shift- (CB-JU) and Quality School – (E.P) These programmes were explicitly devised to deal with the high rates of repetition and dropout. They intended to introduce profound changes to the educational system. The teacher and his/her pedagogical practice were at the centre of the proposed changes.

It is noticeable that in this period there was an increasing emphasis on the figure of the teacher and on the need of his/her continuous professional development. An initial analysis of both the official documents and of the academic educational literature shows that the proposals recommending the offering of programmes of continuing professional education were gradually gaining space, particularly in the official documents, and establishing itself as the main strategy adopted by the Secretariat of Education to improve the quality of education. The idea of the incompetence of the teachers to deal with the majority of the school clientele is recurrent in the documents.

The recognition of this trend in educational policies raises a few questions. Why has that happened? What are the basic arguments that have provided the grounds for that choice by the State Secretariat of Education (SSE)? What is the logic behind it? Is there any relation between the path taken by the educational policies and the academic educational literature? Is a similar trend observed in the educational literature? The actions of continuing professional education occurring during the last two decades have received little attention from the educational research particularly of critical studies concerning their assumptions, aims, contents and strategies, as Andaló (1989), Hypólito (1996), and Perosa (1997) noticed. In other words: the lack of serious research and studies of teachers continuing professional education contrasts with the evident blooming of teachers professional development courses observed in the period. To the extent that there has been academic research interest in the field of teacher education, it is a recent development. Thus, Sarti (1999) while analysing the papers published on ‘teachers education’ by the Revista Brasileira de Estudos Pedagógicos (RBEP) [4] between 1986-1995, noticed that quite a few papers are presented in the “Research Notes” section, that is devoted to the researches in development. Therefore, she concluded, “the interest in the theme of teacher education is to a certain extent recent”. André (1997) observed the same using a different but also equally important source of information. She used a comprehensive compilation of data by the National Association of Research on Education (ANPED), on the PhD and MPhil. theses developed within the Postgraduate Programmes in Education in Brazil from 1990-1995. Analysing the summaries of the works on teacher education André observed an increase in the number of works during the years, particularly from 1994 to 1995 [5] .The theme ‘teacher continuous education’ shows signs of increase but the theme of ‘initial education’ leads the ranking of Brazilian theses in teachers education. The perspective of those professionals involved in the actions of Teachers Professional Development (TPD) [6] is also under-researched.

Therefore, I decided to carry out a research project on the theme of Teacher Professional Development which was presented as my PhD thesis (see footnote 1). For the purpose of this paper, I decided to give more details regarding the empirical research of my work and to present some of the main conclusions. My critical focus is upon the theme of teacher professional incompetence. More particularly the perspective of those professional involved in the actions of continuing education. I consider that the subjective meaning that those actions have for individuals at all levels of the education system plays a central role in the issue of teacher professional development [7] . The importance of taking into account the people’s perspective or the subjective meanings have been recognised as of vital importance in achieving a fuller understanding of educational matters (Fullan, 1991; Hargreaves, 1994).

Fullan addresses the issue of teachers’ perspective while discussing educational reforms and their implementation process. By proposing that the problem of meaning is central to the issue of the educational change he calls the reader’s attention to both the small picture and to the big picture.

“The small picture concerns the subjective meaning or lack of meaning for individuals at all levels of the educational system. (…) It is also necessary to build and understand the big picture because educational change after all is a socio-political process”.

As Rockwell 1991 points out, the challenge lies in writing a report in such a way that the specific local features (small picture) are preserved while at the same time the phenomenon under study is made understandable in the broader context (big picture).

Ezpeleta and Rockwell (1986) [8] , in their turn, claim the importance of taking the subjects’ perspective for theoretical-methodological reasons. For them, the need of taking the people’s perspective into account relates to the concept of ‘non-documented history’.

To take into account both the small and the big pictures, my methodological choice involved:

1) An analysis of the education literature on the theme of Teacher Education, more specifically on the TPD.

2) An analysis of the education programmes developed by São Paulo State between 1982 and 1993, namely Basic Cycle (CB), Basic Cycle in a Single Shift (CB-JU) and Quality School (EP), including their programmes of teacher professional development.

3) A empirical research on a particular teacher professional development project (Literacy Theory and Practice Project) that was part of a larger Programme (Preparation Programme) [9] carried out during the implementation of the Quality School [10] Project.

The Preparation Programme is too extensive to capture its totality, so the empirical work focused on the ‘Literacy: Theory and Practice Project’. The basic reason for choosing that particular project is related to its main target population: the Basic Cycle (CB) teachers and co-ordinators. As the CB is the only recent programme of Primary Education that has persisted throughout the years, it was considered important to analyse the then current projects offered to CB teachers and to relate them to the former actions of in-service education. A second reason was related to the team in charge of the project ‘Literacy: Theory and Practice’ project. Some of them had been involved with the issue of Teacher Professional Development (TPD) for many years. It was considered that those professionals would be of particular interest, for their information, experience, and capacity for reflection on the subject. They were considered as a “qualified informant”. In that sense they were not chosen at random but purposely (Ludke and André, 1981).

The fieldwork had two complementary phases during 1993. The initial phase of the fieldwork took place between March and April 1993. Seven semi-structured interviews were carried out with professionals working on the central and intermediate levels at the Secretariat of Education as well as with a coordinator of Basic Cycle.

A set of basic questions was prepared to guide the interviews but the purpose was to let the interviewees talk ‘freely’ during that exploratory phase. The general concern was to get as much information as possible on the Preparation programme.

The second phase of the fieldwork was carried out from August to November 1993. The general aim of this phase was to obtain information about the points of view of the professionals working at all levels of the project ‘Literacy: Theory and Practice’ (teachers, course monitors, programme staff and programme managers).

In order to obtain the required information two settings were defined to develop the fieldwork: a group of the Basic Course and the pedagogical meetings between the pedagogical assistant and the CB co-ordinators [11] . We expected to diversify as much as possible the settings of observation. That would serve two purposes, at least. First to analyse the kinds of activities (or actions) of professional development that teachers have been offered (such as courses, conferences and seminars, pedagogical meetings) what they think about them and the presence of the idea of teachers incompetence.

A wide range of sources of information resulted from the fieldwork: observations, interviews, documents and newspapers. During the observations notes were taken. The field notes were expanded into complemented notes within twenty-four and forty-eight hours of the time that they were taken. The complemented notes have the observations in detailed and also the fieldworker impressions, the questions that arise in the field, and the researcher’s feelings.

Concerning the interviews, the decision was taken to fully transcribe them (40 interviews of approximately one hour each amounting to approximately 750 pages).

In short, the aims of my work were: a) To identifying the logic behind the increase of continuing professional education programmes (in number of places and in variety of courses) offered by the SSE. b) To trace its presence and possible origins in the educational literature; c) To analyse its relations, repercussions and modifications when interpreted by those directly involved in implementing the policies.

For the purpose of this paper I have decided to share with the reader some of the conclusions of my work, presented next.


My analysis of both the education literature and of the education programmes analysed demonstrated that activities of teacher professional development were taken as the strategic element to forge teacher professional competence. The idea of teachers’ incompetence, in the sense of the lack of teacher adequate training for teaching, is recurrently used on both the educational programmes developed by São Paulo State from 1982 to 1993 and on the mainstream education literature [12] .

The presence of particular rationale to sustain the increasing importance given to the field of teacher professional development within a project of improving the quality of the basic education was clearly identified. I have called that as ‘the argument of incompetence’. The central argument of my work is that from early 80’s until at least mid 90’s, the policy and practice of Brazilian Education has been organised around the ‘argument of incompetence’. The core of that argument states that the main explanation for the poor performance of the education system is the incompetence of teachers. Due to their poor initial education, the teachers are badly prepared and do not know how to deal with the children from the popular classes. Therefore, according to this argument, the only thing to do is to improve the teachers’ competence through activities of continuing education programmes. Thus, the ‘argument of incompetence’ has been used to justify and to shape the adoption of continuing professional education programmes as the main strategy in improving the overall quality of the education system. The “argument of incompetence” takes on different forms according to the context. It tends to be more refined at the level of the educational literature and rather simplistic in the education policies.

It is important to be clear that suggesting that teachers require more training seems to appeal to common sense. I see nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, I believe that teaching is a profession that may benefit immensely if conditions are provided so that schools and teachers could have activities related to their continuous development included in their routine, their practices and expectations for professional life. In this sense it is important to state clearly that I am not criticising the idea of TPD or teachers continuing education in itself. What I discuss and criticise in the main body of my thesis a certain approach to TPD. A certain appropriation and use of TPD activities that is based on two ideas: a) that teachers require training because they are incompetent; b) their incompetence is the sole explanation for school and educational failure. I argue that a conception of teacher continuing education in which negative ways of seeing the teachers, with consequently homogenised descriptions of them and their work prevails particularly when it is referring to the teacher professional competence. I criticise a conception of TPD that reduces the causes of the school and educational failure to a single element, namely teacher education. That conception of TPD overestimates its possibilities for dealing with broader issues of low quality of state education and, more seriously, it underestimates other important elements such as the concrete conditions of work and career development.

The next items present a summary of what were the main findings of my work. These will be presented as a series of affirmations that have been grounded and demonstrated in the analyses and discussions contained in the main body of this thesis.

1- The ‘argument of incompetence’, adapted from the educational literature, was used by the São Paulo SSE to legitimise the mistaken decisions concerning the educational programmes addressed to the primary education developed by the three first elected State Governments (1982-1993).

The analyses conducted in my work, both of the educational literature (see Chapter Three) and of the official documents (see Chapter Four), confirmed the presence of a mainstream line of reasoning that I call the ‘argument of incompetence’. The ‘argument of incompetence’ resulted from various debates, studies and works that had the understanding of the causes of the low quality of education as their broader concern. My analysis on the RBEP [13] (see Chapter Three, sub-section 3.2.1) showed that from the mid 80’s until the early 90’s a trend took shape: to claim that, due to their inadequate initial education, teachers did not know how to work with the majority of the school clientele, namely the children from the popular classes. It was the apogee of a convincing but mistaken idea that the teacher’s bad initial education and her consequent technical incompetence were the sole causes of the school failure and of the low quality of teaching. “We have a low quality of education because we have badly prepared teachers”, that was the linear and simplistic logic that I, with the dissonant voices, questioned (Arroyo, 1966; Azanha, 1994; Bueno, 1998, 1996; Fusari, 1997; Patto, 1990; Perosa, 1997). I argue, to the contrary, that the teacher education cannot be taken as the sole cause for the low quality of education. Teacher education is not the only contributing aspect to the teaching practice. To centre the Secretariat of Education action only on the level of teacher education is a mistaken strategy that restricts and rather simplifies our understanding of the aspects related to the teachers’ pedagogical work. To improve the teacher pedagogical work serious action is required not only to the level of teacher education. With the ‘dissonant voices’(subsection 3.2.2) I suggest a critical approach that proposes that the importance of the concrete conditions of work under which the teacher develops her work is not to be underestimated nor overlooked.

However, that critical approach was not taken by those in charge of defining the educational programmes. The ‘dissonant voices’ were not considered by those responsible for defining and planing the Educational Policies, as that would mean to take into account other important aspects organically related to the final quality of schooling. It would have required addressing issues such as; to improve the general conditions of work at schools, to rethink teacher initial education, to reformulate the teachers career, to pay decent salaries to those involved with the teaching profession. In other words, the school is the entity that should be improved not only the teacher. I have argued that the low quality of education is not a technical problem, in these terms.

It is convenient to recall that in addition to the aspects mentioned above that have not been addressed by policy makers, there are other contextualising issues that have also to be properly taken into account by the Public Policies such as poor health care system, poverty, unemployment, popular habitation, etc.

My analyses have shown that the professionals in charge of defining and implementing the Educational Policies seem to borrow from the academic world only the more convenient and politically profitable ideas and analyses, typically those that will produce Government’s actions of higher visibility to the general public. The academic debate was then simplified to favour particular forms of more prescriptive and practical proposals. And that pointed to investing in programmes of teacher professional development, a ‘remedy for all school ailments’ rather than defining educational policies addressed to improve the general conditions of work at schools, to reformulate the teachers career, including issues of salaries.

By attributing the success of the whole enterprise to the teachers’ response, the SSE exempts all other parts, including itself, of any possible blame. I reproduce here some quotes from the official documents.

“Dear educator, we have, however, the conviction that the success of all the measures now announced depends fundamentally on the political commitment, on the leadership and on the professional competence of those that are, on a day-to-day basis, in charge of our schools, and fighting for the rights and interests of children”(SSE, 1988, pp 4,5 our stress).

Another example appears in a special publication that the SSE, during the implementation of the "Quality School", devoted to the theme of TPD.

“The success of the São Paulo State Educational Reform – devised to improve the quality of teaching- is subordinated to the existence of modern and permanent mechanisms of professional development of the human resources working at schools. (…) One is conscious that, to succeed, the qualitative change of the state education is, above all, in the educators’ hands” (Document 03 p. 2)

2- The ‘argument of incompetence’ is used by all the participant agents of education. The teachers are, however, among the groups interviewed, those that have most suffered the negative consequences of its perverse logic of concealing the educational reality.

The ‘argument of incompetence’, with its superficial rationale, is present in the minds of the members of all three groups directly involved in the actions of TPD carried by the SSE. However, its use and repercussion vary between the three groups involved in TPD, namely policy makers (FDE team), course monitors, and teachers. The FDE team is the group that was more seduced by the ‘argument of incompetence’ when compared to the course monitors and the teachers. The teachers are those who are most affected by its negative effects. And the course monitors are the group that seemed to have developed the initial elements to overcome it, if conditions were provided.

The FDE team as a whole are convinced that the main cause for the low quality of the state education is the incompetence of teachers. The team criticise the former activities of TPD carried out by the SSE, in which they were directly involved and consequently responsible. The team manager’s adhesion to the ‘argument of incompetence’ is clearly noticed in her speech: “I think that it is better to have competent people than to have material conditions and not to have people”. Therefore, their conceptions about and activities for TPD overestimate not only in respect of the current role but also in the possibilities of TPD in the process of achieving a better quality education. Moreover, other vital elements such as adequate material conditions of work at school level, teacher career, and salary compatible to the responsibility of the teaching profession have been systematically neglected. The team have also been subjected to work with scarce resources and within an environment bound to instabilities due to political interests. Nevertheless, the interviews with the FDE team reveal that they, as a group, tend to minimise, more than the two other groups involved, the importance of elements other than the ‘poor teacher education’ and their professional incompetence. The ‘argument of incompetence’ works for the FDE team as the academic ratification for their idea of ‘networking competence’, that is to increase the number of teachers that are convinced that to improve the quality of education it is necessary and sufficient to adopt new teaching methods and techniques. The ‘argument of incompetence’ has provided them with the rationale to centre all efforts on dealing with the ‘incompetence’ of teachers.

The four course monitors interviewed agree with the FDE team’s strategy of ‘networking competence’. They accepted their share of responsibility in that as they had previously done with their own professional development. Their testimony revealed that the course monitors had to invest their free time, energy and private resources to acquire the status of ‘competent teachers’. Their experience in a particular project provided them with some important elements regarding teacher professional development: long-run course, follow-up activities, and a challenging and supportive reference group. That opportunity, as it was experienced by the four course monitors interviewed, engendered a conception of professional development that goes beyond the limited model proposed by the ‘argument of incompetence’. They know, from their own experience, that teacher professional development involves more than changing behaviours, adopting new teaching methods and using innovative techniques. Professional growth is closely tied up with the way teachers develop as individuals and as professionals. Therefore, the course monitors were more conscious than either of the two other groups that any process of change necessarily brings uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety, resistance, loss and uncertainty. Those feelings need to be accepted, understood and, particularly, dealt with. I understand that the course monitors would have paid more attention to these aspects if they themselves had been provided with the required support and supervision by the FDE team, something that did not happen.

The teachers were the group that most suffered the negative effects of the ‘argument of incompetence’. In an environment where the quality of state education and the competence of their professionals, particularly the teacher, have been systematically criticised it has been very tough for all, particularly for those that despite the insufficient conditions of work take their duties seriously, to keep working. The dissemination of the idea of ‘teacher’s incompetence’ - due to the poor teacher initial education - ratified by the mainstream educational literature, reached the schoolteacher. They were ready to accept that argument, as long as the incompetence was the incompetence of ‘the other’. The school, without an environment provided by a supportive school team, makes it more difficult for the teacher to discharge their responsibility to deal with the difficulties inherent to the work with their pupils. The problems are experienced as personal problems that require personal actions. Those teachers that cannot cope with their own classroom problems are labelled as incompetent.

Projection is a powerful defence mechanism that may be employed whenever the integrity of the self is threatened. The stressing conditions of work teachers usually have, plus a rationale that identifies the teacher as the ‘guilty party’ favour the use of the projection to safeguard their self-image as ‘good’ and ‘competent’ teachers. However, by projecting the incompetence onto the other teacher, the teacher may feel also ‘emptied’. The assurance of being ‘competent’, as the whole incompetence was projected onto ‘the other’ may not last long as another difficult situation will probably occur shortly. We understand that by projecting their ‘incompetence’ onto the other, the teacher also loses her confidence and her autonomy. As the teachers cannot see their ‘bad’ parts (real or fantasised) they do not exercise their capacity of self-recreation, of reflection, of increasing their possibilities and overcoming their present limits. The pessimism and hopelessness one finds when talking with some teachers may be related to this ‘emptiness’ I am referring to.

3- Teachers, as qualified professionals, have the right of and the duty to continuously improve themselves. However, the individual plans of activities of TPD should be part of a broader project, at the school level. To care for the quality of teaching should be taken as a collective issue, and not as an individual problem.

The official documents of the ‘Quality School’, the project partially implemented in the early 1990’s, proposed that the school has to offer conditions to teachers, head master and administrative personnel to develop their talents through permanent mechanisms of professional development. The SSE should provide suitable infrastructure and facilities for that to occur. And above all the ‘Quality School’ had to substantially increase the school autonomy, regarding its pedagogical, administrative and financial aspects. A proposal that expects the school’s team to decide on substantive aspects of their daily life would mean that they consider them as capable of doing that. The documents state that the SSE should provide conditions of work and payment compatible with the social importance of the teaching profession. The disrespectful and inconsiderate treatment teachers received by the SSE and by the Governor during their strike [14] showed that those were empty words without a real intention to transform them into concrete actions.

As Azanha puts,

"The very idea of school autonomy, which stimulates the development of pedagogical projects specific to it, presupposes that the entity to be improved is the school and not just the teacher. The latter should receive attention as a participant of a school project. Other than that, the individual improvement of a teacher is a personal matter for which the educational Administration can and must create facilitating conditions, but not turn it into a public problem. The public problem is in the school.'' (pp. 54, our stress).

My analysis has demonstrated that there was a contradiction between the desired main feature of ‘Quality School’ (an increased pedagogical, administrative and financial autonomy) and the TPD programmes designed to implement it. The concern with the professional competence of primary teachers is not new. Its origin can be traced back to the enlargement of the Brazilian education system. And that concern, in the initially rare instances when it was transformed into actions, represented attempts to improve the professional skills and efficiency of teachers, detached from their school environment.

This conception of professional development reveals a reductionism that stems from another reductionism - that of the technicist approach to the analysis of school and its problems. As the problems that occur in teaching are exclusively viewed as technical problems, the more adequate proposal would be to ‘train’ teachers in new and modern techniques. The strategies have been basically the same: ‘cascade methods’ using short courses, talks, conferences and pedagogical meetings.

The analysis made by both international and Brazilian literature of the problems involving teacher professional development is highly monotonous: teachers complain about the courses for not addressing the practical issues; little or no improvement of pupils’ performance and of classroom practices; imposition of courses on a top-down basis, and so on. My analysis of the literature on the subject and of the interviews with those professionals in charge of TPD activities allowed me to reach a conclusion. All recent attempts of TPD carried out by the São Paulo Secretariats of Education had taken the teachers, individually and in isolation from their working context, considering them as incompetent professionals that needed to be better trained. The schools, their social and institutional contexts and the concrete work conditions were not regarded as important elements to be dealt with neither were they taken as aspects to reflect upon. In short, the social and institutional contexts in which the schools are included and the concrete conditions of teaching each school offers were not regarded as elements that provide an important support to the process of change that teachers were expected to undergo.

Alternatively to the traditional approaches of professional development, there are other models that presuppose a decentralised action: the so-called ‘school-focused’ approach. Some studies in Brazil have pointed in this direction (Patto, 1990; Andaló,1989, and Souza, 1991). It is timely recalling that the ‘school focused’ approach of TPD, and the proposal of involving all the participants, has the same spirit of taking the school as the unit of reflection and intervention, not individual teachers. Regarding the field of teacher professional development my work suggests that a more productive proposal of TPD, never tried so far in Brazil, should take the school as an object of work and analysis, as the concrete context within which teachers and students work. It should not focus on individual teachers but on the concrete school practices. It is the school that needs improvement; the action of professional development should focus on the schools, on helping the school team to improve their school. The work with teachers should be part of an broader project – the school project – developed with the participation of all the parts involved in the process of schooling: school staff, students and parents.

4- The adoption of programmes of teacher professional development as the main strategy to tackle the low quality of education represents another blunder of the Brazilian Educational Policies.

Even a brief analysis of the Education Policies (and Social Policies) carried out in Brazil in the last forty reveals wrong and mistaken decisions.

The demand for education increased considerably during the 60’s and 70’s due to the disorganised and unequal economic development across the country, which generated massive internal migration from the rural and poor states of the Northeast to the urban and richer states of the Southeast region. The expansion of its educational coverage, at both primary and higher education levels increased. That also occurred in a disorganised and uncontrolled way as a small but powerful lobby (from the private education sector) had their interests assured.

In short, in the last forty years the participation of the State with respect to the provision of Higher Institutions has been neglected. The State have accepted and provided all the facilities regarding tax exemptions to the private institutions. The concern with assessment and control of Higher Education institutions is very recent, and it was virtually nonexistent during the phase in which the private sector had its ‘boom’, during the 70’s and 80’s. As consequences that impacted on the quality of Primary Education it is possible to mention:

1) The quality of initial teacher education was negatively affected as poorly prepared secondary teachers teach the future primary teachers.

2) The Primary Education is also affected by primary teachers seeking those night and weekend courses either to improve their professional qualifications or to progress in their career.

From the negative consequences pointed out above, I have learned that in fact the initial teacher education, both at secondary level and higher level, needed attention and improvement. But, is the initial teacher education the only (or the main) cause for the low quality of education? Is the teacher education the only (or main) contributing aspect to the concrete teacher pedagogical work? I have reasons to affirm that the answer is "no".

To centre our attention only on the level of teacher education is to restrict and rather simplify any understanding of the key aspects of the teacher’s pedagogical work. Altering the teaching practice requires attention and action not only on the level of teacher (initial or continuing) education, but also on the concrete conditions under which the teachers develop their work. The latter should not be underestimated or overlooked.

So far as this work is concerned, it is important, for the moment, to remember that with insufficient resources it is quite difficult, if not impossible, to improve the general quality of education. When the State does not provide schools with the necessary resources, namely, suitable buildings, equipment, materials and labs, and well-paid human resources it is unreasonable to expect that most teachers will be able to carry out their duties properly.

Some members of the team interviewed mentioned a certain uneasiness that was observed because the wages paid to the course monitor are much higher than those received by the professionals working in the education network. I believe that such reaction was a sign, not fully understood by the team, that together with the opportunities of professional development it is vital to take care of the improvement of general conditions of work.

I consider it to be incongruent (or a sign of economic short-sightedness) to invest considerable amounts of resources (financial and human) to develop the quality of the teaching force and to deny them good conditions of work, including fair salaries. A more qualified teacher will certainly think about moving to a school that offers more attractive conditions of work. And, regarding salaries and pedagogical support, the private sector is bound to be the teacher’s choice. Then, public money is wasted as investment for the public sector.

Therefore, it is possible to conclude that the educational policies carried out between 1982 and 1993 which emphasised programmes to ‘re-train’ teachers without also taking care of the material conditions of schools are a vivid example of another wrong step of the Brazilian Educational Policies.


Andaló, C. S. A. (1989). Fala Professora! Repensando o aperfeiçoamento docente. São Paulo, Institute of Psychology (IPUSP), University of São Paulo, PhD thesis.

André. M.E.D. (1994) A Formação de professores em serviço: repensando a prática pedagógica. Research report – CNPq. 

Arroyo, M. G. (1996). ‘Reinventar e formar o profissional da educação básica’. Formação do Educador, vol. 1, São Paulo: Ed. UNESP.

Azanha, J.M.P.(1994). Comentários sobre a formação de professores em São Paulo. Formação de Professores. São Paulo: UNESP.

Bueno, B.O.(1998). Pesquisa em colaboração na formação contínua de professores. In Bueno, B.O.; Catani, D. B.; Sousa, C. P.(eds). A vida e o ofício dos professores. São Paulo: Escrituras.

Bueno, B. A. (1996). Autobiografias e formação de Professores. Um estudo sobre representação de alunas de um curso de magistério.Insitute of Education (FEUSP) – University of São Paulo, Livre-docência thesis.   

Bueno, B. et alli (1993). Docência, memória e gênero: estudos alternativos sobre a formação de professores. Psicologia USP, 4 (1/2), 299-318.

Cardoso, O. B. (1949). O problema da repetência na escola primária. Revista Brasileira de Estudos pedagógicos, 13, (35), 74-88.

Cunha, L A. (1974). Educação e Desenvolvimento social no Brasil. Rio de Janeiro: Francisco Alves.

Cunha, L. A. (1991). Educação, Estado e Democracia no Brasil. São Paulo: Cortez.

Freitag, B (1978). Escola, Estado e sociedade. São Paulo: EDART.

Fusari, J.C. (1997). Formação contínua de educadores :um estudo de representações de coordenadores. Insitute of Education (FEUSP), University of São Paulo, PhD thesis.

Fullan, M. (1991). The new meaning of educational change. London: Cassel Educational Limited.

Fullan, M. and Hargreaves, A. (1992). Understanding Teacher Development . London: Cassell.

Goodson, I (1992). Sponsoring the Teacher’s Voice: teachers’ lives and teacher development. In: Hargreaves, A. and Fullan, M. (eds) Understanding Teacher Development. London: Cassell.

Hargreaves, A. and Fullan, M.(eds). (1992). Understanding teacher development. London: Cassel.

Hargreaves , A. (1994). Changing Teachers, Changing times: teacher’s work and culture in the postmodern age. London: Cassel.

Hypólito, D.(1996). Formação continuada: dos desafios `as possibilidades no cotidiano escolar.Papal University of São Paulo (PUC-SP), Mphil thesis.

Kessel, M. (1954). A evasão escolar no ensino primário. Revista Bras. de Estudos pedagógicos, 22 (56), 53-72.

Ludke, M and André, M. E. (1989). Pesquisa em educação: abordagens qualitativas. São Paulo: EPU. 

Patto, M.H.S. (1990). A produção do fracasso escolar: histórias de submissão e rebeldia. São Paulo: T. A. Queiroz.

______(1984). Psicologia e ideologia: uma introdução crítica à psicologia escolar. São Paulo: T. A. Queiróz.

Perosa, G. (1997). Formação docente e fracasso escolar: um estudo sobre a oferta de cursos de capacitação (1983-1994). Institute of Psychology (IPUSP), University of São Paulo, Mphil thesis.

Rockwell, E.(1991).Ethnography and critical knowledge in Latin America. Prospects, V. XXI, No 2, 156-167.

Sarti, F. M. (1999).  Os estudos sobre formação docente na Revista Brasileira de Estudos Pedagógicos.  Contexto e Educação, no 53, ano 14, Ijuí, UNIJUÍ.

São Paulo (estado).SSE/FDE, (1988). Jornada Única . São Paulo.

São Paulo (estado) SSE (1991). Textos sobre programa de reforma do ensino público do estado de São Paulo – caderno 3- . São Paulo.

Stake, R. (1983). Pesquisa qualitativa naturalistica- problemas epistemológicos. Educação e Seleção,(7), 19-27.

Souza, D. T. R. (1991). Conquistando o espaço escolar: a estruturação do trabalho pedagógico numa classe de Ciclo Básico. Institute of Psychology (IPUSP), University of São Paulo, Mphil dissertation.

[1] This paper is based on my PhD thesis under the title “Teacher professional development and the argument of incompetence: the case of in-service elementary teacher education in São Paulo – Brazil”, presented to the Institute of Education – University of London, 2001.

[2] Kessel (1954); Cardoso (1949); Cunha (1974), Freitag (1978), Sposito, M. P. (1984), Patto (1984, 1990) amongst others.

[3] Cunha (1974); Freitag (1978),  amongst others.

[4] Brazilian Journal of Pedagogic Studies, would be a possible translation for the title

[5] She identified 236 works between 1990-1995, being 203 MPhil. and 33 PhD.

[6] Hereafter TPD.

[7] Fullan, M. (1991);Hargreaves, A. and Fullan, M. (1992); Hargreaves, A. (1994); Patto (1990) ; Andaló (1989), amongst others.

[8] Elsie Rockwell and Justa Ezpeleta are mostly known in Latin America but their influence is important in many countries in the region. Working at the Departamiento de Investigaciones Educativas – DIE – Mexico City Rockwell and her group developed a more ‘indigenous’ ethnographic tradition, closely related to the critical ethnography. Differently from Britain and the United States, where the symbolic interactionism was a influential theory in ethnographic studies, their work is grounded on Antonio Gramsci’s (to build their conception of institution, as historical formation well characterised, dependent on the political forces that permeate the institution, at each time.) and is grounded on Agnes Heller’s ideas (in her sociology of the everyday life, on the features of the everyday life). In Brazil, as well as in Mexico, the introduction of the ethnography in educational studies was done through its critical versions, that is, the methodological perspective called ‘critical ethnography’. See also, Rockwell, 1991.

[9] The Preparation Programme is a substantial in-service education programme carried out by the FDE (Foundation for the Development of Education between 1991 and 1993 .

[10] In Portuguese: Escola Padrão.

[11] Our initial plan included observations of pedagogical meetings at school level. Unfortunately those meetings were seriously affected by the teachers ‘strike that took place during most of the time of the fieldwork. So, we made only two or three observations in a couple of schools. Until this moment we are not using directly those observations for we consider the teachers were involved with the strike itself and its consequences rather than their pedagogical practice.

[12] We discuss the idea of teacher’s incompetence tracing its recent origins in the literature, and investigating its repercussions for the formulation and implementation of official Education Programmes on Chapters Two and Three of my thesis. Due to my choice, this discussion is left out in this paper.

[13] RBEP stand for Revista Brasileira de Estudos Pedagógicos, Brazilian Review of Pedagogical Studies.

[14] The 220,000 teachers of the state education were on strike during most of the time the fieldwork was carried out. The general figures concerning the state education system at that time were : 6 million of students, 220,000 teachers, 1,500 school supervisors, 6,500 head teachers, and 6,300 schools. They demanded an increase of 186% in their salaries to make up for past inflation rates, and the establishment of a salary policy that included monthly pay rise (following the inflation rates). Teachers’ salaries had reached their lowest level in the last decades. According to the calculations of the teacher’s Union – APEOESP (Associação dos Professores do Estado de São Paulo) –, São Paulo State teachers had lost 88% of their purchasing power during the last thirty years.