UN says 69 million teachers needed for global school pledge

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.

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.
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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

 

Investing in girls & women will boost global trade & economics

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.

Vikas Pota
Chief Executive Officer
The Varkey GEMS Foundation