I was interviewed for this piece on the BBC on 5th October 2016
Almost 69 million teachers need to be recruited around the world by 2030 if international pledges on education are to be kept, warns Unesco.
The United Nations agency’s estimate is for the number of teachers required to meet the promise of primary and secondary places for all children.
The biggest gaps in staffing are in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia.
The Unesco report says there needs to be a “seismic shift” in recruitment to overcome “massive shortages”.
At present, the report from the Unesco Institute for Statistic says there are about 263 million children without a primary or secondary school to attend.
This includes about 25 million children who will never set foot inside a school of any kind.
World leaders last year agreed a set of global targets for access to education, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.
But the report says that keeping this promise for primary and secondary school for all by 2030 will require a huge increase in teachers.
The most acute pressure is in sub-Saharan Africa, where countries would need to train another 17 million teachers to meet the demand.
The Unesco study warns that there are already shortages of teachers in these countries, as they struggle with rising populations.
“Without urgent and sustained action, the situation will deteriorate in the face of rising demand for education,” says the report.
The report identifies countries where staffing numbers are “getting worse, rather than better”, including Burundi, the Central African Republic, Kenya, Malawi and Mozambique.
But there are a number of countries in the region on track to have enough staff to meet the targets, including Ethiopia, Rwanda and Swaziland.
The study highlights the importance of the quality as well as the quantity of teachers.
In countries such as Niger, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia, fewer than 60% of teachers in primary school have been trained.
Pauline Rose, professor of international education at Cambridge University, says the lack of teachers also affects class sizes, particularly when the population is rising.
“So in countries like Malawi, it is common to find over 100 children in classes in the early grades of primary school. This has been a persistent problem for many years.”
The lack of pupils completing secondary school in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa further compounds the shortage of teachers.
Prof Rose says that in “some countries around half of secondary school graduates would need to go into teaching to fill the teacher gap, which is clearly not viable”.
There is also a problem with low pay which makes teaching less attractive, particularly to the most able graduates.
Prof Rose says that in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa teachers are “paid below the poverty line, and so not surprisingly they take second jobs to compensate. This has an impact on the quality of their teaching”.
And she says there might be enough teachers trained on a national level, but there could still be local shortages in regions where schools cannot get teachers to apply.
The Unesco report highlights the importance of retaining staff and says this will require teaching to have a competitive salary and contracts which will give them job security.
Vikas Pota, chief executive of an education charity, the Varkey Foundation, said: “We already know that better pay will attract the best graduates into the profession and give them an incentive to stay.
“A 10% increase in teachers’ pay tends to result in a 5% to 10% increase in pupil performance. Given the stretched finances of developing world governments, the international community has a responsibility to help fund this.”
The Varkey Foundation has been experimenting in Ghana with interactive distance learning to try to offer training on a wider scale than would be possible with in-person classes. It is training up to 5,000 teachers over two years.
The UN report says the success of global targets for education will depend on tackling the teacher shortage.
“Such efforts could falter if they fail to prioritise those on the front line: the world’s teachers, who are tasked with the actual delivery of a good quality education for all.”
Last month, there was another warning from Unesco about the delays in creating enough primary school places by the 2030 target.
A report warned that at current rates of progress it would be 2042 before all primary-age children would be able to attend school.
The most limited access to schools was found in countries which were the poorest or most troubled by conflict.
Niger, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Afghanistan, Mali and Chad were among the nations whose children were likely to spend the least time in education.
This article appeared in the Guardian newspaper on 25th September 2015 – on the day the Sustainable Development Goals were approved by all UN member states:
There have been some real achievements in global education following the establishment of the millennium development goals (MDGs) by the UN in 2000. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the proportion of children enrolled in primary school has risen from 52% in 1990 to 80% this year.
However, in the dash to get children into the classroom, there was too little focus on the quality of the education once they were there. UNESCO estimates that of the world’s 650 million primary school children, at least 250 million lack even basic literacy and numeracy skills.
The new sustainable development goals (SDGs), which will replace the MDGs at the end of this year, address this issue of standards, calling for “inclusive and quality education for all” by 2030. But these will remain empty conference room sentiments if the $16bn (£10.5bn) per year required to achieve good quality universal education throughout the world is not met.
However well-intentioned, governments in the developing world cannot raise the sums needed to provide high-quality education on their own. If they could, they would have done so decades ago. Education spending must be balanced against budgets for other essential infrastructures such as hospitals, roads and sanitation.
Too often government schools leave education in the hands of teachers who haven’t been adequately trained. Even worse, according to UNESCO, many countries – including Cameroon, Ethiopia and Senegal – are only meeting the goal of universal primary education by employing untrained teachers.
Low state teacher salaries, which are often paid sporadically, discourage people from entering (and staying in) the profession. In rural Zambia it can cost teachers up to half their wages to cover the costs of transport and accommodation needed to simply collect their pay from district offices each month. In Malawi, one in 10 teachers reported that they were often not in school because they were travelling to collect their salaries or make loan payments.
To build the schools and train the teachers needed to meet these new SDG targets, we cannot rely on governments alone. Parents in the developing world, even those on low incomes, are voting with their feet and opting for private education because of shortcomings in state provision.
World Bank data shows that the number of primary school pupils attending private schools is on the rise, with some costing as little as a dollar a week. In rural India in 2013, 29% of elementary school pupils were educated privately, up from 19% in 2006.
Though NGOs do vital work, only the private sector can provide the scale of investment necessary, unencumbered by political and bureaucratic obstacles. Bridge International Academies, a chain of low-cost private schools, for instance, has created 400 nursery and primary schools in Kenya and Uganda using standardised classrooms. Large-scale providers, with international reputations to nurture, can be better guarantors of quality and consistency than individual schools in the community that lack the deep pockets to invest over many years.
The notion that private business must be involved in this process has gone some way to being accepted. From the start of negotiations on the SDGs, UN officials have sought to formally bring the private sector into the dialogue, but some still see private sector involvement as a threat. Just last year the UN special rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, warned that the costs associated with private schools were exacerbating inequality and said that, “for-profit education should not be allowed in order to safeguard the noble cause of education”.
In my experience, the worlds of business and education too often speak entirely different languages. An ideological distaste for the private sector means that even where business could help philanthropically, it is rarely approached for help.
There are some notable exceptions. Aviva, through its Street to School community project, has helped more than one million children receive support and education in 17 countries. Deutsche Bank has helped more than five million school children through its support of literacy initiatives in Brazil and provided shipping container classrooms in China.
However, these great efforts pale in comparison to the scale of business philanthropy in global health. The Brookings Institution estimates that corporate giving to global health is 16 times the amount given to global education. Last year, a report by the Varkey Foundation found that the Fortune 500 companies spend just $2.6bn (13%) of their total annual CSR budget of $19.9bn on education-related projects. Fewer than half provide any spending on education-related CSR at all.
The cultural divide between business and education is particularly unnecessary given that business is deeply concerned about the impact of poor education on organisations and the future prosperity of markets. A PWC global survey of more than 1,200 CEOs found more than half were concerned that skills shortages would stunt growth, particularly in emerging economies. A better-educated population would add rocket fuel to economic growth in the developing world. According to the OECD, if all 15-year-olds achieved a basic level of education, Ghana could increase its GDP by 3,881% and South Africa by 2,624%.
As more than 150 world leaders meet in New York for the U N Sustainable Development Summit 2015, they must recognise that to have any chance of meeting the new SDGs on education, business must be seen as part of the solution.
Vikas Pota is Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation
This piece was printed in the Times Educational Supplement on 29th January 2014:
After decades of depressing news, the last few years have seen an outbreak of giddy optimism about the prospects for Africa. The continent’s economy has begun to shift from mining and agriculture to tourism, telecoms and banking. Six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies over the last ten years have been in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s no surprise, then, that The Economist has christened Africa “the hopeful continent”.
But such hopes could be dashed unless education improves. Unesco’s Education for All global monitoring report, published today, paints a damning picture of basic skills in the poorest parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa. Though school attendance has increased, 175 million children remain illiterate. As ever, girls fare the worst. The report predicts that it will take until the next century for every girl from the poorest families in sub-Saharan Africa to finish secondary school.
The reasons for Africa’s poor educational performance could easily fill a thick exercise book – from large classes and poor funding to insufficient textbooks and rickety schools. But the malaise has one overwhelming cause: the lack of respect and decent salaries for teachers. This discourages many with the talent to teach from entering the classroom.
It is a particular disaster because 70 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population under the age of 30. Africa’s much-trumpeted renaissance will be stymied if education capacity does not keep pace with the youth bulge, as Asia has successfully managed to do over the last thirty years. The continent’s business leaders frequently argue that finding employees with the right skills is the biggest to challenge they face. And the scale of the task is urgent – according to the Unesco report, 8.2 million new primary school teachers need to be recruited by 2015.
However many teachers are hired by education ministries, it is the quality of their teaching that will help determine whether sub-Saharan Africa will continue to grow. According to the report, west African education is dogged in particular by the fact that less than half of teachers have been formally trained and work under poorly paid temporary contracts.
Teacher absenteeism is also a major issue: in a school I visited in the region, just two of the twenty teachers that were supposed to be there were present. This is not due to idleness. Teacher salaries are often so meagre that teachers have to work a second job to support their family – at the expense of those in the classroom.
Such behaviour takes hold because of a lack of accountability. All too often, once a teacher has been hired, they have a job for life; there is no requirement to demonstrate their skills over time. And there is no equivalent of the Ofsted visit where independent observers can validate the quality of teaching.
This is not to criticise the teachers who are often working heroically in the most arduous circumstances. However, the Education for All report is right that the priority for developing countries is to employ the best teachers, pay them competitive salaries, encourage them to stay in the profession and ensure that they improve their skills throughout their careers.
Governments in developing countries have painful choices to make about spending priorities. But, as Peter Dolton from the London School of Economics has demonstrated, there is a clear link between the level of teacher reward and a country’s educational performance. The star performers in the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings – from Finland to South Korea to Singapore – all prioritise attracting the brightest, best-qualified graduates into the profession through offering excellent pay and conditions.
Practical measures to improve the skills of those teachers already in the classroom are essential. The Varkey GEMS Foundation last year began running a two-week course to improve pedagogic techniques. The programme trains teachers to encourage their students to apply their knowledge rather than simply recalling rote-learned facts. Those teachers that benefited from this programme will, in turn, train their colleagues back in their schools, eventually improving the skills 250,000 teachers around the world.
We should beware too, of techno-utopians who predict that they can transform African education. Though the iPad and the laptop can be valuable teaching tools, internet connectivity in the more remote parts of the continent should not be overestimated. In most schools, using the latest technologies simply isn’t the most pressing concern. The budgets devoted to technological fixes would be better spent, for the moment, ensuring that pupils have access to books, paper and pens.
The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) noted in 2010 that “the demand for education services [in Africa] is rising at a faster rate than governments can supply”. With the endless competing demands on meagre resources of these poorer states, the resources of the private sector must be leveraged to build and operate schools on the scale required. Over forty per cent of pupils are already enrolled in low-cost private schools in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda.
When the Varkey GEMS Foundation published the Global Teacher Status Index last year, we found that, out of twenty-one countries polled, only one country – China – thought teachers enjoyed the same high status as doctors. It is no coincidence that Shanghai now leads the Pisa rankings.
Respect for teachers is essential for African development. The euphoria that has greeted the glad economic tidings from Africa is entirely justified after decades of poverty and conflict. But, as the Unesco report reminds us, without well-trained, well-paid and well-respected teachers, hope for the next generation of young Africans may prove short-lived.
Vikas Pota is Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation
Enjoyed moderating this conversation:
Just a couple of weeks ago, I visited Ethiopia to attend the World Economic Forum’s Africa Summit – a choice which confused many of us, as, like many other African countries, doesn’t strike you as being a natural choice to host such an event, but when we scratched beneath the surface, what impressed was their total focus on applying science and engineering to boost their economic and agricultural productivity, which is obviously working as they’re now the world’s third fastest growing economy. Imagine that! I remember, as a young boy, cycling to my local record shop to buy the charity single that brought Ethiopia into focus, and where we all sang along to “do they know its Christmas time at all”.
And it’s not the only example of a country that we think of as ‘developing’ as being in a vastly different economic environment than we might think. While we all know of the rise of the BRIC economies, but did you know that a country like India produces more engineers & doctors than the whole of Europe put together?
Both examples show that investing in STEM education makes good economic sense. Education can be the driver for economic growth. But it’s not always universal and girls and women are often being left behind. There’s an obvious moral argument to this – how can it be right to leave behind so many people – but there’s also an economic argument. On what basis can we look at ourselves if we don’t do more to ensure that we create generations of female mathematicians, scientists, engineers, and technologists?
Did you know that since the inception of the Nobel Prize for Physics, only two women have won this prize? Only four have won the Chemistry prize. How can this be right? We can drill even further as the statistics for women “of colour” are even more alarming such as; only 2% of all women professors in the US are “of colour”.
How can this be right?
The work that the Varkey GEMS Foundation does with UNESCO concerns the recruitment of more women into the teaching profession, the skilling of these recruits to ensure girls advance in STEM subjects, and an ongoing commitment to their professional development as educators.
As a company, if there’s one thing that GEMS has learnt from educating children is that good teachers matter. Who stands at the front of a classroom often makes the essential difference to a child’s prospects of success.
As a charitable foundation we believe that the role & status of teachers has become so derided that we fail to appreciate their critical contribution to a country’s progress. We also fail to understand the way in which the teaching profession is changing, for example as technology allows for easier transfer of knowledge, the classroom teacher takes on an ever more critical role – that of a “mentor”. In this avatar, teachers can have an incredible influence on parents, students and the wider community, and can convince those who don’t believe that science pays, of the rewards advancement in STEM subjects can hold for families and communities – whether in cosmopolitan cities like London or Paris or in the most rural locations in Lesotho or Kenya, where our intervention is targeted.
No longer are STEM subjects taught in isolation, real world challenges demand an inclusive, combined approach. In this new way of learning, teachers become even more vital as they join the dots for students to make the subjects real and practical.
We need to be clear in our minds that a focus on STEM education can boost a country’s economic chances – which in these challenging and austere times is important to understand. But, clarity of thought is one thing, we ought to also bear in mind the moral argument in training girls and women, for they have been neglected for far too long by a male dominated political culture, which is hard to defend on any basis.
Teachers are the backbone of the education sector. By investing in them, we invest in ourselves.
As a father of two daughters, I wanted to convey my thanks to H. E. Ms. Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO for convening such an alliance to further the education of girls and women and look forward to reporting back the progress we’re making in Lesotho & Kenya over the next few years.
Chief Executive Officer
The Varkey GEMS Foundation
Remember those words? Remember Bob Geldof on TV during Live Aid launching into a tirade asking people to call in to pledge money for the people of Ethiopia? Well, guess what?
I’m on my way to Addis for the Africa Summit of the World Economic Forum, which last year was held in Cape Town – in Africa’s largest economy – South Africa. So, when they announced that this year it’d be in Ethiopia, I, and many others, looked a little puzzled – about their choice.
Since then, I’ve paid attention to everything “African” and am actually looking forward to attending, knowing that Ethiopia is one of world’s fastest growing economies – YES, you read correctly – Ethiopia’s BOOMING – who would have thought!!
Take a look at this BBC report if you want to learn more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-15739706
I’m going to be live tweeting from Addis, so please do follow me on Twitter if you want to know what’s being said.