New report reimagines the broader education workforce

A new report by the Education Workforce Initiative proposes new approaches for harnessing the potential of teachers and the broader education workforce to ensure quality education for all students.

October 24, 2019 by Liesbet Steer, International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity and Ju-Ho Lee, Education Workforce Initiative Steering Group
6 minute read
A teacher in class at the Amadou Diagne Woré Elementary School. Senegal. Credit: GPE/Carine Durand
A teacher in class at the Amadou Diagne Woré Elementary School. Senegal.
GPE/Carine Durand

We haven’t invested enough in teachers. And we haven’t invested enough in the whole education workforce. And we haven’t taken seriously all the innovations that could be brought to strengthen the work that they can do.

Gordon Brown, former UK Prime Minister, speaking at the launch of Transforming the Education Workforce: Learning Teams for a Learning Generation

The challenge

There is a real risk the world will not achieve inclusive, quality education for all by 2030 as set out in SDG 4. There are still more than 260 million children out of school and more than 600 million who are in school aren’t learning. The Education Commission estimated that on current trends, even by 2030, more than 800 million children will not be on track to achieve basic secondary level skills.

It is universally accepted that teaching quality is the most important determinant of learning outcomes at the school level. Yet, in many countries teachers are in short supply, inequitably distributed, isolated and not supported to provide effective teaching and learning. Globally, almost 69 million teachers must be recruited by 2030. In addition, many teachers who are currently in classrooms are ill equipped to teach. A study of seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa (conducted as part of the Education Commission's Learning Generation report) found that less than 10% of primary school language teachers could demonstrate a minimum level of subject knowledge. 

In light of these challenges, the Education Commission’s 2016 Learning Generation report recommended the creation of an international group to catalyze thinking on how to strengthen and diversify the workforce.  In response, the Education Workforce Initiative (EWI) just released Transforming the Education Workforce: Learning Teams for a Learning Generation during this year’s UN General Assembly.  The report proposes new approaches for harnessing the potential of teachers and the broader education workforce to ensure quality education for all students. 

The opportunity

At the launch, Ju- Ho Lee, former Minister of Education in South Korea and EWI Chair, noted that current workforce design is often based on an outdated model of education created to meet the labor needs of the industrial revolution and organized on the principle of mass production. Instead, “we need an education workforce for this century,” he said. “It is time to reimagine workforce we need now and for the future.”  

The world is continually changing. The education workforce must respond to demographic shifts, environmental changes and the need for new skills, at the same time ensuring that all children are learning the foundations. 

The education workforce must evolve to keep pace with rapidly changing societies spurred by global trends and new opportunities in education.
The education workforce must evolve to keep pace with rapidly changing societies spurred by global trends and new opportunities in education.

Visions for the education workforce

The report puts forward 3 interacting visions for the education workforce today, tomorrow and in the future.

  • Vision 1 involves incremental change to address immediate challenges through strengthening the existing education workforce
  • Vision 2 is a shift to a broader and more collaborative education workforce through developing learning teams
  • Vision 3 is a future oriented paradigm-shifting vision to transform education systems into learning systems
New report reimagines the broader education workforce

Vision 1: Strengthening the education workforce

This vision is about investing in and building the ‘human capital’ of the workforce and re-orientating this human capital towards learning, equity and inclusion.

This vision is focused on creating an effective education workforce at all levels in the system, with coherent approaches to the professionalization of teachers and other key roles (such as school leaders and district officials) and applying this throughout the workforce life cycle. This means from recruitment and preparation to professional development and career progression to leadership and management.

For example, to strengthen the workforce in underserved areas and address teacher shortages, countries could consider alternative routes into the profession. In the GATE project in Sierra Leone, the local community selects women to first work as learning assistants and then, through school-based training, they become qualified teachers. 

Vision 2: Developing learning teams

This vision is about investing in the ‘social capital’ as well as the ‘human capital’ of the workforce.

Countries need to harness the talent of the broader education workforce throughout the education  system – such as school and district leaders, inclusion specialists, data analysts, learning assistants, parents, and community members. Many of these roles already exist but are often considered formally part of the education workforce, and there is very little understanding about how they can work together in low-income contexts to accelerate progress towards SDG 4. 

It takes a team to educate a child. Teachers will always be critical but they cannot work alone. Teachers collaborating together is a key ingredient of highly effective schools. Team-based approaches are commonplace in other sectors like early childhood development and health, why not in education?

The vision to develop “learning teams” sees education professionals collaborating inside the classroom, within schools, within districts, and even at national and international levels. These teams collectively focus on improving the learning and inclusion of all students and continually learn themselves.

New report reimagines the broader education workforce

“This represents a big shift in how we design the workforce,” EWI Lead Amy Bellinger, highlighted at the launch. “In today’s class design, the teacher tends to be at the center doing many different things besides teaching. The report proposes a learning team design where the learners are at the center surrounded by teachers and other professionals supporting them. This means the diverse needs of students can be met and that teachers have better support.”  

Learning teams will be different in every context and at every level in the system. They can include a variety of professionals in teaching and learning, leadership and management, and welfare and operations and administration. For example, volunteers from the local community can work with teachers to improve the learning outcomes of those furthest behind. Ghana’s Teacher Community Assistant Initiative does just this, utilizing existing high school graduates from the National Youth Employment Program to work alongside teachers to lead in- and after-school remedial classes for small groups of students in primary school leading to improved literacy and numeracy. 

Vision 3: Transforming an education system into a learning system

The most future-oriented vision is to transform an education system into a learning system. This would harness learning teams, networks of education professionals, cross-sectoral partnerships, data, and evidence to create a system that is able to learn and adapt.

As the capacity of professionals grows, school networks become the engine of professional development with high-performing teachers sharing their expertise. Evidence shows that when schools collaborate with one another, they improve more rapidly. And, an education system with closer collaboration between health and social service sectors can help address systemic barriers to learning. In Kenya, the Let Girls Succeed program engages community health workers to work with girls and their communities to address factors that prevent them from going to school.


New report reimagines the broader education workforce

How to get there 

Workforce reform clearly requires a deep understanding of political context. Reform processes must recognize members of the education workforce and their representative organizations as change agents and engage them in genuine dialogue to design, implement, and sustain education workforce reforms. Ensuring the right resources are in place to support reform is also critical. This will need to include identifying efficiencies within the existing system as well as clearly articulating the cost and benefits of new reforms. To unlock resources, for example, ministries of education need to make a convincing investment case for change. 

Call to action

Now is the time for all actors – and most importantly policymakers and members of the education workforce themselves – to work and learn together. By building learning teams and learning systems, we can harness the human and social capital of the wider workforce and create a learning generation.

To help ignite workforce change globally, the report recommends three overarching areas for action:

  1. Support countries to develop a workforce diagnostic tool underpinned by reliable data, indicators, and improved costing models
  2. Experiment, research, and evaluate to explore what works and at what cost
  3. Lead coalitions for change at all levels 

We can’t keep pace to meet SDG 4 unless we all take up the challenge and reimagine an education workforce that can support quality education for all.

Contributions to this blog were made by Amy Bellinger, the Education Workforce Initiative lead, and Katie Godwin the Education Workforce Initiative Research Manager. 


Gordon Brown speaks at the launch of the report "Transforming the education workforce"
Gordon Brown speaks at the launch of the report "Transforming the education workforce"
Education Commission
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A good report to support quality education.

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