The right to education means the right to a qualified teacher
Ahead of World Teachers’ Day, we reflect on the factors which contribute to the current high demand for teachers and how we can strengthen teacher education.
October 04, 2018 by Sonia Guerriero, UNESCO Section for Teacher Development, and Inès da Silva, International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030
5 minutes read
Teacher Geoffrey Machiza teaches standard 5B at Muzu primary school in Malawi. Credit: GPE/Govati Nyirenda
Teacher Geoffrey Machiza teaches standard 5B at Muzu primary school in Malawi.
Credit: GPE/Govati Nyirenda

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to education.”

Education improves living conditions, offers opportunities and contributes to the economic and social development of a country. Its contribution to peace and sustainability has been underlined by the Sustainable Development Goals, with the dedicated Goal 4, which aims to ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

However, despite staggering progress accomplished regarding access to education, 262 million children and youth are out of school according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). Moreover, out of those enrolled, 617 million children and adolescents – nearly 60% globally – have not mastered basic literacy or numeracy. Unfortunately, there is also not enough teachers around to remedy to these two problems.

For World Teachers’ Day, we would like to remind the world that we desperately need teachers if we are to fulfill this human right and achieve universal primary and secondary education for all by 2030. And not just teachers, but well-trained and qualified teachers!

Missing: teachers

There is a global consensus on the importance of teachers’ role in improving the quality of education and of leaning outcomes. However, the world is currently facing a massive shortage of teachers. According to the UIS, if we are to fulfill our promise and achieve SDG 4, we need to recruit 69 million teachers by 2030.

This gap is even more pronounced in low- and middle-income countries. The greatest teacher shortages are in sub-Saharan Africa, where about 17 million more teachers are needed to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030.

A number of factors contribute to the current high demand for teachers. The rapid expansion of participation in primary and secondary education, population growth and age distribution can explain part of the existence for a teacher shortage. At the same time, the profession does not attract enough candidates due to the deterioration of teachers’ social status caused by low salaries, poor working conditions and a lack of career development options. Those that do join the profession often leave the workforce within the first five years, with estimates ranging from 5% to 50% in some countries.

In some countries, addressing teacher shortages, while at the same time providing universal access to a growing number of children and youth, has meant increasing class sizes. The number of students per teacher in low-income countries was an average of 41 for primary education and 23 for secondary education in 2015, in comparison to 14 and 13 for primary and secondary education, respectively, in high-income countries.

Often countries must resort to filling the teacher gap by hiring teachers on non-permanent contractual arrangements. These ‘contract teachers’ are hired as an emergency measure and do not need to meet the same training and qualification requirements as permanent teachers. Indeed, contract teachers, who tend to be younger and less experienced, receive lower salaries and have limited access to pre-service or in-service training.

Research also shows that the lack of teachers is resulting in an uneven distribution of teachers that is further exacerbating inequalities. For example, schools in rural and remote areas have more difficulties in attracting qualified teachers than their counterparts in urban areas. Teachers who are deployed to remote or rural areas tend to be less experienced on average and often do not speak or understand the local language of the community.

Teacher shortages in hard-to-staff areas are often most severe in specialized subjects, such as maths and science, and when less experienced teachers are deployed to high-needs areas, they often lack the pedagogical skills to work with students with special needs or learning disabilities.

Trained and qualified teachers

Increasing the supply of teachers also poses a problem of a qualitative nature. SDG 4 calls for increasing the supply of ‘trained’ and ‘qualified’ teachers. A qualified teacher is one who receives an academic qualification, while a trained teacher is one who has completed the minimum organized teacher training requirements (whether during pre-service training or in-service).

In some countries, teachers need to have a Master’s Degree in order to teach; in other countries, a high school diploma is sufficient. More importantly, there is a lot of variability in the design of teacher training programs. Teacher training programs can range from 12 months to 4 years. They can include a practical component (e.g., field experience) either concurrently during course work or after all course work is completed.

Practical experiences vary among programs with some lasting a few weeks while others are much longer. Some student teachers may benefit from supervised practice during their field experiences, while others are only allowed to observe a classroom teacher. Often, these variations exist within the same country.

Countries also differ with respect to how teachers become licensed or certified to teach. In some countries, a teacher candidate must pass an exam before receiving a license to teach. In other countries, there is a probationary period, with or without an exam, before a teacher candidate becomes certified. In some countries, a teacher must be re-certified after a number of years; in other countries, a teacher is licensed to teach until retirement.

Regardless of the type of initial training, all countries have a policy that in-service teachers must engage in professional development. Here again, there is lots of variability. Professional development opportunities vary in terms of minimum number of hours required, whether they target specific pedagogical needs, and whether they are offered by private or pubic providers.

Although there is currently a lack of data, such qualitative variations in teacher training and development will undoubtedly affect teacher quality and student learning.

How to strengthen teacher education?

Because the issue of well-trained and qualified teachers is one of the key factors affecting students’ learning outcomes, it calls for scrutinizing the quality and content of pre-service and in-service trainings offered to teachers.

Strengthening teacher education in order to guarantee quality teaching and learning for all calls for policy dialogue between policymakers, practitioners and civil society representatives. Therefore, further to World Teachers’ Day raising awareness to this matter, the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 will use its international platform and delve into the question of teacher education during its next Policy Dialogue Forum in November.

Attended by policy-makers, academics, researchers, NGOs, teachers and international organizations, the event will allow a multi-stakeholder approach to the discussions on how to guarantee that the right of all children and youth to be taught by a well-trained and qualified teacher is respected and enforced.

More information:

UNESCO World Teachers’ Day page

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It is very clear that improvements in access to primary and secondary education throughout the world can simply not happen without qualified teachers. Yet all the major education funding campaigns do not include funding for higher education at all. So how are teachers to be trained?

It is heartening to see this exclusive and emphatic focus on what constitutes- in my opinion- the heart of the challenge in school education. I commend the author for the sharp focus on this aspect. However, the solutions offered to enabling more trained and qualified teachers to join the teachers' pool seems mechanical and does not quite address the underlying system that continues to act as a barrier to this, no matter how much is spend through public and donor resources. No public funding is required to motivate students to aspire for careers in engineering, or medicine. In my experience and knowledge of the education system in India- a country I live and work in-, there are hardly any student who aspires to become a teacher. The challenge is thus at multiple levels. One, teachers are no longer role models in society. They are also not seen as widely respected by policy community for their knowledge and experience. Absence of this national culture that makes Heroes out of teachers is the key systemic bottleneck that has to be overturned over a period of time. That requires patient capital, either from public sources or private donors. And most capital today- specially philanthropic- is becoming increasingly impatient. Only competent and committed teachers can make learning enjoyable and create in students the yearning for learning, which in turn catalyses motivation, the only true and sustainable teacher one has for life. (views are personal)

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