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Teachers and learning

This page tells how the world needs 25.8 million more teachers to achieve universal primary education by 2030. You will find out why we urgently need funding and strategies to get many more qualified teachers into classrooms if we hope to achieve education for all, especially the most marginalised.

Quality education needs good teachers

The international community has pledged - in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) - to give every child 12 years of education by 2030.

To reach every child by then, the world will need 25.8 million additional primary school teachers, according to projections from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). But many more will be need to fully achieve SDG4 - ensuring all girls and boys complete free, quality education at primary and secondary school level, and have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education.

A report released by the Education Commission in 2016 said the number of preschool teachers will need to rise from one million to four million.

Not only do around 61 million children currently miss out on primary school, in 2015 UNESCO reported that more than 250 million children cannot read and write even after spending several years in school.
Recruiting enough teachers is crucial. But they also need to be well-trained and capable of offering a quality education to their pupils. Without a focus on recruiting and retaining qualified teachers, more children may attend school but not actually be learning. 

Why is there a shortage?

There are several reasons for the increased need for teachers:

  • Increasing demand. The ratio of children enrolled in education has increased and the number of school-age children is rising. For example, for every 100 primary school-aged children in sub-Saharan Africa in 2013, there will be 142 in 2030.
  • High pupil-teacher ratios. The number of pupils for each teacher is often above the recommended levels. In sub-Saharan Africa in 2012, the pupil to teacher ratio was 42:1. In the most disadvantaged 25% of schools in Nigeria, the pupil to trained teacher ratio is at least 150:1.
  • Loss of current teachers. In many countries, teacher recruitment cannot keep pace with the rate of teachers retiring or changing professions.

The impact of the shortage

The highest demand for teachers is in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for two-thirds of the additional teachers required by 2030. If current trends continue, however, 34% of countries will not have enough teachers to achieve universal primary education by 2030.

Some children are even more disadvantaged by teacher shortages than others. Marginalised children - girls, children with disabilities, ethnic minorities and those living in impoverished or rural areas - are most affected by the shortage of qualified teachers. In the two most remote rural regions of Ethiopia, the percentage of trained primary teachers in 2014 was 1% compared with 43% in urban Addis Ababa.

In many countries, children are taught in a language they do not understand or speak at home, which seriously hinders their ability to develop basic literacy skills and impacts adversely on their test scores. In Peru in 2011, native Spanish speakers were seven times more likely to achieve satisfactory reading levels than indigenous students who spoke Spanish as a second language. 

Recruitment and resourcing issues

Many existing teachers, especially in the least developed countries, are untrained, underpaid and teaching with scarce resources.

Adequate funding to education is the most critical component for addressing the global teacher crisis. Success in recruiting, training and retaining more teachers is highly dependent on increased investment in education. UIS estimates that, from 2015 to 2030, the annual financing gap for achieving universal quality education in all low and lower middle-income countries is $39 billion.

While there is no data about the full global cost to close the teaching gap, UIS estimates that sub-Saharan Africa alone will need to spend an additional $5.2 billion annually just to pay the salaries of the extra teachers required in the next five years.

Efforts to close this funding gap must begin with increased domestic spending. But many countries are unable or unwilling to allocate the recommended 20% of government spending to education, so increased donor contributions are also essential.

Finally, education spending must include resources to address the shortage of trained teachers and must specifically target the teacher inequalities related to region, gender, disability and poverty. 

Strategies to improve recruitment and quality

Recruit qualified, diverse teachers

Growing demand should not mean compromising on minimum standards for recruitment and qualification. Recruiting local teachers or individuals from under-represented groups, so that teachers reflect the diversity of their students, can help close the achievement gap for marginalised students.

Example: In 30 developing nations, increasing the percentage of female teachers also increased girls’ participation in education and their academic achievement, especially in rural areas.

Get teachers where they are most needed

Students in disadvantaged or rural schools face more crowded classrooms and are often taught by teachers with less training and experience.

Solutions include:

  • Government deployment of teachers
  • Incentives for teaching in disadvantaged or rural schools
  • Recruitment of local teachers

Example: In the Republic of Korea, teachers working in disadvantaged schools received incentives such as extra pay, smaller classes, shorter hours, better career opportunities and choosing where they were next assigned. As a result, 77% of teachers in villages had higher qualifications than a bachelor’s degree, compared to only 32% in large cities.

Improve teacher salaries

Teachers are often paid less than other professionals with comparable qualifications. In several sub-Saharan countries, teachers do not make enough to rise above the poverty line. Paying teachers more competitive salaries that meet at least the basic needs can attract and recruit talent while increasing the profession’s prestige and improving learning outcomes.

Example: A study of 39 countries from 1995 to 2005 found that a 15% increase in teacher pay resulted in a 6% to 8% increase in student performance.

Improve teacher training

Teachers must have solid knowledge and training in core subjects, teaching methods and ways to support diverse students. The need for teacher training far outstrips supply, so alternative training methods should be considered, including distance learning and mentorship.

Example: From 2001-2006, Kenya ran a development program for primary school teachers combining individual study using distance-learning materials with in-person professional development programmes. Follow-up observations found programme graduates routinely employed higher-quality teaching methods, such as more frequent student pair and group work.

Useful links

UNESCO eAtlas of Teachers: Maps and graphs illustrating the UNESCO Institute for Statistics projections about global demand for teachers.

'Sustainable Development Goal for education cannot advance without more teachers': Fact sheet 33 from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (October 2015). 

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