Worlds of Education

Education International
Education International

Why well-trained and effective teachers are central to tackling the global learning and skills crisis

published 26 September 2013 updated 26 September 2013
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What is the situation?

The right to education that stimulates active learning and inspires imaginations can only be a reality when the transformative power of education is fully realised, however too many children and young people - especially the disadvantaged - are leaving school without learning anything of value.

There is consistent evidence that teachers are the most important school-based factor in determining learning outcomes, second only to what children bring to school. Yet globally there remains a marked deficit in both teacher numbers and teaching quality, which has an extreme impact on learning outcomes for children. According to UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), over 1.7 million more primary school teachers are needed to achieve universal primary education by 2015, on top of replacing the 5.1 million who will leave the profession during this period. This figure will be much higher if we include the demand for pre-primary and lower-secondary teachers.

In many low income countries - where education systems have expanded rapidly - teachers themselves may not have sufficient subject knowledge or appropriate skills because of poor quality, or lack of, teacher training. Often, this is compounded by reduced qualifications for entering into the teaching profession. This lack of qualification or subject knowledge presents teachers with difficulties in understanding and breaking down the curriculum for their students. It limits their confidence and consequently their teaching and the learning outcomes for children. Sadly, such evidence is rarely considered by governments and development partners while developing education policies and deciding resource allocation priorities.

What are the challenges?

Getting the right people to become teachers:Attracting high quality entrants to the teaching profession is critical to improving standards in teaching.  Instead of raising the entry requirements, many countries continue to have low standards of entry into the teaching profession, particularly at lower levels of the education system. Most of the teachers who participated in VSO’s Valuing Teachers’ research in 14 low income countries, told us they chose to go into teaching not because they saw it as a vocation but because there was no other work available to them.

Preparing teachers with the right skills:Teachers should be equipped with knowledge and teaching skills that can provide relevant guidance to promote effective practice and support improvement. Low levels of education and poor training are leaving teachers graduating from teacher training colleges without the core subject knowledge and pedagogical skills to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.  National definitions of the level of teacher training required for trained teachers vary significantly across countries with some countries only requiring  primary school completion and a one-month training course, while others require a three-year education degree. Teacher education institutions have often been under-resourced and teacher educators themselves have little opportunities for continuous professional development

Motivating teachers to do their job effectively:Evidence from VSO’s research indicates that low salary is one of the pressing issues in relation to teacher motivation and teacher shortage. Low levels of income has a detrimental effect on teachers’ personal lives and their ability to perform well in their jobs, as they look elsewhere for part-time work to supplement their incomes. Low salaries also mean that teachers cannot afford to pay tuition fees for further education for themselves, nor can they pay the costs for their children’s education. Attracting well-trained and effective teachers needs greater investment. Beside financial incentives, teachers reported being motivated when they are well supported by school leadership and have professional development opportunities with adequate teaching and learning materials, their voice is heard and have safe working environment. These factors are important in sustaining teachers’ professional identities, their job satisfaction, and commitment to the profession.

Inequitable distribution of well-trained teachers:In many countries, qualified teachers prefer to teach in schools in urban areas where they can have electricity and medical facilities. The impact of this preference is that urban areas have the best qualified teachers, and often have over-staffed schools, while the least desirable areas such as rural and urban slums, have more unqualified, younger, inexperienced and less trained teachers, unable to meet the unique learning needs of the students. As a result, even when children attend school the quality of education they receive can be very poor and this has led to parents in some rural areas pulling their children out of school.

What is the solution?

It is encouraging to see that the debate around key indicators and binding targets already gaining traction in the post-2015 development agenda discussions; but we must continue to build this momentum to fully realise the transformative power of education worldwide. In order to achieve this, VSO calls for the following indicators to be implemented if sustainable progress in achieving the goal of a quality education for all is made:

  • Qualified teacher-pupil ratios disaggregated by economic status, location, gender, ethnic, religious and linguistic background;
  • Percentage of teachers/educators who have received continuing professional development opportunities every year;
  • Percentage of aid from development partners to education sector / national budget allocated to increase the number of well-trained teachers and teachers’  continuing professional development.

Through the lasting power of volunteering, VSO - an international development organisation that fights poverty by bringing people together to share skills, expertise and knowledge - is well placed to be at the vanguard of tackling the existing crisis in global education systems. The goal of quality education for all is achievable but the international community can only do this by working together.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.