‘The “march of the machines” and the teacher recruitment crisis together make for a disastrous cocktail’

Today is World Teachers’ Day and in the coming years, we will rely on teachers more than ever. Without their guidance, the UK workforce will not be equipped to face their greatest challenge since the industrial revolution – the unrelenting march of the machines.

A recent review by Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane concluded that automation would threaten up to 15m British jobs the next few years – around half of the total. This could be solved – assuming that we could fill the resulting employment gaps with new or existing industries not susceptible to automation, such as technological or creative industries. Such restructuring can be a normal part of an economy’s evolution when carried out at a manageable pace. But this restructuring requires a workforce with a deep and flexible skills base. And unfortunately, our two methods of supplying such a workforce – education and immigration – are about to fracture.

Just at the time that we are reducing migration, we will need skilled workers more than ever before. The UK economy is reliant on immigration from healthcare and agriculture to the creative industries. EU citizens account for around 7 per cent of the workforce at both the high- and low-skilled end of the labour market. However, immigration figures for this year so far show a fall of 43,000, with a comparable rise in emigration. The resulting net migration total of 248,000 is a quarter lower than before the Brexit vote.

Net migration was just 5,000 for Eastern Europeans – the lowest since these countries entered the EU in 2004 – and many employers are already experiencing difficulty in filling vacancies. At a minimum, we will need to fill vacated jobs – and new roles – with qualified UK citizens if we are not to see a failure of the labour market in critical industries. But it is not just about the replacement of foreign-born workers. As more jobs become automated – from driving and manufacturing to previously immune professions like law and accountancy – new high-skilled jobs will be needed to replace them.

Not enough teachers

Politicians across the spectrum are united in proclaiming that education is the answer to automation, skills training, and retraining for those whose jobs will disappear. But new data suggests that we simply don’t have enough teachers to teach these new skills that the country will need. As the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported in their latest global report on education, released last month, UK teachers are facing stark pressures, leading to ever-increasing numbers leaving the profession.

This was echoed by a National Audit Office report, which showed that the total number of secondary school teachers fell by five per cent between 2010 and 2016, and that, compared to five years ago, more teachers are leaving the classroom for reasons other than retirement.

Meanwhile, acceptances for teacher training courses dropped by 10 per cent this year. Many new recruits into the profession are also giving up: 30 per cent of newly qualified teachers leave within the first five years, and nearly half of England’s teachers plan to leave teaching in the next five years. Perhaps this is unsurprising given a salary fall for teachers in real terms between 2010 and 2015 of around six percent. The Local Government Association claims these factors, along with a surge in pupils, are about to crash the secondary system.

The result is that while many countries face an ageing teacher population, the UK has the opposite issue. In 2005, 32 per cent of teachers were 50 or over. Today the figure is 20 per cent, reflecting a reduction of 37 per cent in this group, the largest such reduction in the OECD.

The UK is losing its more-experienced teachers. If these trends continue, our education system may be incapable of preparing its students for an uncertain economic future in which they will have to draw on a wide range of technical and creative skills. So what can be done to turn the situation around?

UK lagging behind

The reasons for poor teacher recruitment and retention are complex – from work-stress to onerous non-teaching duties – but one of the most important factors is the low status of teachers, both in the UK and worldwide. This, in turn, may mirror the gender imbalance within teaching: around seven out of 10 teachers are women, although this drops closer to 50 per cent at tertiary level (traditionally viewed as higher in status). Men, who are generally found to value the status of professions more, are not being drawn to school teaching.

All the international evidence – from Finland to South Korea – shows that it is impossible to create an excellent education system without well-motivated, well trained and fairly rewarded teachers. For Britain to succeed in an automated world post-Brexit we are going to need our human capital to rise to the challenge.

Unfortunately, the World Economic Forum Human Capital Index released last month shows that the UK is currently lagging behind many of its European counterparts, including Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. Automation and a crisis in teacher numbers – together with Brexit – could converge in a way that will have a catastrophic effect. How well we treat our teachers may ultimately determine whether we can turn this human capital crisis around and emerge successfully through the most tumultuous period since the war.

Vikas Pota is chief executive of the Varkey Foundation

This article appeared in the TES on 5th October 2017

Developing world education is failing, it’s time to open up to the private sector

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

Teachers’ pay must be at the heart of global education reform

This piece was printed in the Guardian on 29th January 2014:

Progress in global education – especially in the poorest regions of the world – remains painfully slow. The latest Unesco Education for All global monitoring report, published Wednesday, underlines how far we still are from guaranteeing a good quality education for every child. While many pupils are now attending school, the quality of the education is often so poor that they are failing to learn the most elementary skills. Around 175 million young people in poor countries – equivalent to one quarter of the youth population – cannot read all or part of a sentence.

The situation for girls is particularly dire. If current trends continue, it will take until 2072 for all the poorest young women in developing countries to become literate. In other words, it will only be the grandchildren of today’s pupils in sub-Saharan Africa that can expect to learn the skills that the developed world takes for granted.

Though the subject of improving education in the region could keep conference organisers in business for years, the overwhelming problem outlined in the report is simple: the availability of teachers and the quality of teaching.

Over the last few years, there has been much excitable talk about Africa being on the cusp of an economic renaissance. But this will amount to another lost opportunity if the number of teachers is not increased to cope with the continent’s exploding young population. Worldwide, 8.2 million new teachers need to be recruited by 2015 (pdf). If they are not, then Sub-Saharan Africa will be the worst affected region.

The quality of teachers is equally important. In a third of countries analysed by the report, less than three-quarters of primary school teachers are trained to national standards. In West Africa, where the teaching of basic skills is particularly poor, over half the teachers have little formal training and are on low-paid temporary contracts.

Poor pay results in many teachers earning supplementary income through second jobs, or running family businesses, when they should be in the classroom. This culture has been allowed to develop because there is little accountability: independent observers do not regularly inspect schools, and teachers do not have to prove their competence in the classroom after they have been hired.
Advertisement

There is, of course, no simple solution to this litany of problems. But the Education for All report is right that developing countries must attract the best candidates into teaching and incentivise them to stay. When governments have to choose whether to spend education budgets on new facilities or the salaries of teachers, there’s a good argument that spending on attracting teachers will yield the most tangible results. Peter Dolton from LSE has proven that there’s a clear link between the level of teachers pay and the quality of a country’s educational outcomes. Those countries that are in the upper-reaches of the Pisa rankings – South Korea, Finland, Singapore – all make an effort to recruit the best graduates and often demand that entrants to the profession have a second degree.

With many competing demands on fragile states – to build roads, provide healthcare and provide a welfare safety net – it’s unrealistic to expect that governments can provide the additional education provision required by Africa’s youth bulge alone. If managed well, partnerships with the private sector can bring in the investment to build schools quickly and import international expertise. For instance, entrepreneur James Tooley has pioneered school places in Ghana for 65 cents per day – including a school uniform, a hot lunch and work books – which is within reach of regular families.

Most importantly, we must raise the status of teaching. This isn’t just a problem in developing countries. In a survey in 21 different countries on which profession the public thought was comparable with teaching, it was only in China that people thought that the status of teachers was similar to that of doctors. Unsurprisingly, with such attitudes towards teachers, Shanghai topped the 2012 Pisa rankings. And it’s not just about teacher pay. We must culturally value teaching – seeing it not simply as a worthy vocation but as a job for the highly skilled that is essential to our future.

Without that, we will condemn more generations to leave school unable to read to the end of a sentence.

Vikas Pota is Chief Executive of the Varkey Foundation