The shortage of teachers is a global crisis: How can we curb it?

As a new school year kicked off in many countries, the media was flooded with stories of a growing crisis of teacher shortages, with even the most dedicated and passionate educators growing tired of the lack of support, resources and recognition. A new report looks at trends in the teaching profession around the world and makes recommendations for improvement.

October 17, 2022 by Carlos Vargas, International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030
4 minutes read
Mr. Ibrahim, psychology supervisor at the Saâdou Galadima Teachers Training college in Niamey, Niger with student teachers. Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Mr. Ibrahim, psychology supervisor at the Saâdou Galadima Teachers Training college in Niamey, Niger with student teachers.
Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

According to the latest calculations carried out by the Teacher Task Force and UNESCO, released to coincide with World Teachers’ Day, recent data show that sub-Saharan Africa alone needs to recruit 16.5 million more teachers in order to reach the education goals by 2030.

This means 5.4 million new teachers are needed in primary and 11.1 million in secondary education, in order to meet the needs of the growing school-age population in the region, and to mitigate growing numbers of out-of-school children.

Some of the biggest challenges are in the Sahel, including Niger and Chad, which need to double their primary teacher workforces to meet the goals.

In Southern Asia, despite progress in some countries, a substantial shortfall of seven million teachers remains: 1.7 million teachers will be needed in primary and 5.3 million in secondary education. This is nevertheless a considerable reduction from earlier projections.

The lower primary level teacher projection may be attributed to progress towards universal primary education in Bangladesh and India, as well as to declining birth rates.

Elsewhere in the region, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the annual growth rate of primary teachers would have to increase by about 50% or more than 10 % annually to achieve universal primary education by 2030.

Teacher shortages are not just a developing world crisis but one being experienced around the world, including in countries like Australia, China, Estonia, France, Great Britain, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, the United States and others.

COVID-19 merely exacerbated the existing teacher crisis

COVID-19 has been blamed for some of the shortfalls – with poor health or pandemic-related stress pushing teachers out of classrooms. But we know that COVID-19 was just the tipping point – and has served to worsen shortages that were already starting to become a problem before the pandemic.

Teachers leaving the profession – teacher attrition – is a major concern facing the profession with serious implications for learning. A Guardian article reports that 44% of teachers in England plan to quit in the next five years, with most blaming their heavy workload, while in New South Wales, Australia, a survey of 8,600 teachers found that more than half are planning to leave the profession in the next five years.

Teacher attrition has many causes, including a lack of financial incentives, poor working conditions, high workloads, lack of preparation, little autonomy, poor administrative support, poorly designed classrooms and a lack of teaching resources.

Emigration in search of better opportunities is also a source of attrition. In France, a recent study found that, in the 1980s, a beginning teacher was earning 2.3 times the minimum wage. Today, this is equivalent to just 1.2 times.

In underserved regions and crisis contexts, already-challenging teaching conditions are made worse by a lack of qualifications and professional development opportunities for teachers and by inequitable forms of deployment that appoint the least qualified and experienced teachers to the areas where the best are needed.

Urgent action is needed to reduce the teacher gaps

Some countries are implementing short-term solutions by dealing with the symptoms, rather than the cause, of teacher resignations. Some schools in the United States of America are doubling up classes and increasing the workload of the teachers left behind, while others are lowering the requirements and employing less qualified teachers.

Meanwhile, some countries are adopting controversial recruitment strategies, including the increased use of contract teachers. In Italy, where teachers are on average among the oldest in the region, 150,000 teacher posts have already been filled by contract teachers.

In order to help curb global teacher shortages, in line with recent global consultations as part of the Transforming Education Summit, the authors recommend that governments need to urgently:

  • Improve the status and social standing of the teaching profession to attract more candidates, including through reinforcing social dialogue and teacher participation in educational decision-making.
  • Formulate and implement teacher policies that calculate and cost the needs for expansion of the teaching workforce and progressively integrate contract teachers into the public civil service, while also improving contractual conditions.
  • Improve financing for teachers through integrated national reform strategies and effective governance, allocating 4% to 6% of GDP or 15% to 20% of public expenditure to education.
  • Ensure teacher salaries are competitive to those of other professions requiring similar levels of qualifications, and include incentives to remain in the profession based on experience and qualifications, while providing vertical and horizontal mobility throughout teachers’ careers.
  • Promote gender equality in the teaching profession and address gender biases at different education levels and specializations, supporting women to take on leadership roles.
  • Develop more flexible qualification and accreditation processes that allow multiple entry points to attract additional candidates into the profession while maintaining quality standards.

The new paper is available for download on the Teacher Task Force knowledge hub.

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