Education International
Education International

Teachers training and quality education in Africa

published 13 November 2012 updated 13 November 2012

This article will discuss the characteristics of a profession in the context of the teaching service and challenges which teachers may face in their endeavour to develop and maintain reputable organisations and professional members. It will also explore the strategies which teachers and education stakeholders may use in advocating for a strong teaching profession.

It is generally understood and argued by committed educationists that teaching is a noble profession. They also contend that teaching is the mother of all other professions since education and training are the main foundation of any profession.

However, some analysts doubt whether teaching should be classified as a real profession at all. They claim that some teachers in schools and colleges are not adequately qualified, academically and/or professionally, to be true professional practitioners. They also argue that many teachers do not have autonomous bodies or professional associations to determine who may teach - in terms of entry qualifications to the profession, regulations under which they may be engaged, or how to govern and discipline members in their organisations.

Education International and its affiliates promote and defend the teaching profession in its provision of quality teachers who facilitate quality public education for all learners. EI is supported in this by the United Nations. The 1966 ILO/UNESCORecommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers stresses that “teaching should be regarded as a profession: it is a form of public service which requires of teachers expert knowledge and specialised skills, acquired and maintained through rigorous and continuing study; it calls also for a sense of personal and corporate responsibility for the education and welfare of the pupils in their charge”.

Characteristics of a Profession and Inherent Challenges

The 1977 United Kingdom Competition Commission report on Architects Services, states that “a profession is a vocation founded upon specialised high educational training, the purpose of which is to supply objective counsel and service to others, for direct and definite compensation, wholly apart from expectation of other business gain”.

Based on the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation, and noting the 1977 UK Commission definition, well-qualified teachers who have undergone rigorous academic and thorough initial professional training, and who devote their full time to facilitating pupils’ learning for specified salaries deserve to be regarded as members of the teaching profession. Teachers from developed countries, such as Australia, Canada, and Sweden, fall into this category. Some developing countries, including Mauritius and Kenya, also have adequate highly qualified teachers and independent Teaching Council structures to determine and enforce their own teaching profession qualification standards, and codes of conduct or professional ethics to qualify their teaching force for professional status.

Under-qualified teachers

However, the high incidence of employing unqualified and under-qualified teachers in the education system seriously undermines educators’ efforts to advocate for a strong teaching profession. In countries such as Cape Verde, Tanzania, and Togo, less than 50 per cent of their teaching force are professionally qualified ( 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report). They engage temporary teachers, volunteers, and school leavers who are given brief induction courses and employed to help teach in schools. Lack of professionalism among many unqualified teachers, such as inappropriate association with school girls by young male school-leaver teachers, may tarnish the image of the whole teaching profession. By contrast, in Hong Kong for example, higher standards apply to teacher recruitment. The Educational Department Bureau of Hong Kong declared that “for example, in order to become a fully qualified teaching professional in Hong Kong working in a state-funded school, one needs to have successfully completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Education or a Bachelor’s degree in Education at an approved tertiary educational institution or university”.

Teachers’ organisations and stakeholders in education need to first advocate for educators’ improved qualifications to enhance the status of educators and improve the image of the teaching profession in the world, if teachers in developing countries are to compare favourably against their counterparts in richer nations.

PATC: Agreed qualifications for teachers

Advocates for the teaching profession need to agree on minimum levels of education that a professional teacher should attain. The Pan African Teachers’ Centre (PATC) believes that a high secondary school certificate and a teaching diploma would be reasonable minimum qualifications for basic professional status, especially at early childhood education centres and in primary schools. At least, a first degree and an initial teacher development certificate would be necessary for teachers at secondary and college education levels, while Masters and Doctorate degrees are relevant qualifications for university teaching. Similar higher qualifications may equally be required for elementary and secondary educators, particularly for school leaders, who need higher academic and professional competencies to accomplish their work and supervise teachers in their institutions. Classroom teachers themselves also need to be highly qualified and continually update their knowledge and skills to facilitate effective learning and have rewarding collegial supervision and professional support. Their applied research to discover new knowledge and introduce or accept innovation, in addition to other forms of lifelong learning, could enhance their status and that of the teaching profession.

Well-qualified teachers may need minimum external assessment concerning their needs for in-service professional development to enable them perform better. It can also enable assessors to identify high-fliers for special awards, rewards or promotion. However, assessment aiming at victimising teachers or denying them deserved legitimate remuneration or career advancement is mean-spirited and unprofessional. Unions should oppose it.

Freedom, esteem and status

Teachers’ professional autonomy and academic freedom, in terms of how their education institutions are run, and how they may interpret syllabi, design and adapt curricula to be relevant to their learners and environmental situations, could greatly influence educators’ achievements, quality of outputs, and their professional ranking. Closer liaison with other related professions could enhance advocacy synergies. Such key roles and high esteem require professional expertise, higher levels of organisation, commitment, duty consciousness and ability to adhere to the teaching codes of ethics.

Advocacy through exemplary practice may be more effective than pleading to be accorded professional status. Enhancing the status of the teaching profession must be negotiated between organised teachers and their employers and national governments, according to the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation, its subsequent updates and related international statutes. National Teachers' Organisations (NTOs) advocacy for autonomy and academic freedom in order to have a strong teaching profession may be undermined by division, indiscipline, gender discrimination among educators, and apparent subversive deprofessionalisation of the teaching service by some antagonistic states indiscriminately engaging unqualified teachers to keep their salary spending low. NTOs have to work harder to recruit and retain qualified members.

Strategies for Strengthening the Teaching Profession

Solidarity and unity of purpose are essential in advocating for a strong teaching service. A strong unitary teachers’ organisation, where female and male members have equal rights, would be best positioned to collect and focus its members’ demands for better conditions of service and increased recognition by the employer and the society in which teachers serve. Gender discrimination may initially seem to disadvantage one gender but, in the end, it compromises the status of the whole teaching profession, particularly where teaching has been feminised. High status, equal pay for work of equal value, and equal opportunities for promotion are human rights, irrespective of one’s gender or colour.

Good internal monitoring, accountability, and cooperation promote democratic leadership, efficient communication and active involvement of all members within organisations and learning institutions. However, corrupt and autocratic leadership causes fear, resentment, discord, and the emergence of factions or splinter unions. Infighting among factions or splinter unions wastes financial and technical resources. It opens staff or teachers’ organisations to infiltration by divisive elements and opportunists who use them for their selfish gains at the expense of building and maintaining strong teachers’ organisations.

Therefore, efficient facilitation of quality public education, effective liaison with parents and education stakeholders, teacher unity, gender equality, love of the teaching career, and genuine collegial support for fellow members are key factors necessary in advocating for a strong teaching profession. Teachers have to take a leading role in this advocacy process in order to create a positive environment for their support by society, related professions and governments.

By Peter Mabande, Pan African Teachers’ Centre