By Pauline Rose, director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report
Worldwide, 250 million primary school age children are not learning the basics – even though almost half of them are in school. Studies in several countries have shown that many children spend two or three years in school without learning to read a single word. That is why the 2013-14 EFA Global Monitoring Report will focus on recruiting and training effective teachers, who are vital to overcoming the learning gap and providing equitable education for all.
“Every child needs a teacher” is also the theme of this year’s Global Action Week, organized by the Global Campaign for Education. Teacher shortages are one of the main reasons for the learning crisis. In some sub-Saharan African countries, there are over 100 students per teacher. But as our latest policy paper explains, lack of teachers is not the only problem. Every child needs a good teacher. Unfortunately, many teachers lack training, especially in the poorest areas – where they are needed most.
Our new paper, Addressing the crisis in early grade teaching explains the importance of ensuring that the best trained teachers are allocated to children in the early grades, where they can have the biggest impact on the weakest students. Reaching children at this young age can prevent them from dropping out before they have even learnt to read or write; it brings huge benefits to their learning potential later in life.
A good teacher needs to have a good level of education. In many countries, however, this is not the case. In northern Nigeria, for example, 78% of 1,200 basic education teachers were found to have “limited” knowledge of English after taking a reading comprehension test and correcting sentences written by a 10-year-old. In Kenya, grade 6 teachers were given a mathematics test based on the primary school syllabus. The average teacher score was only 60%, with some teachers scoring as low as 17%. Not surprisingly, their students also received low scores on the same test, averaging around 47%. Clearly, students cannot be expected to learn subjects that their teachers have not mastered themselves.
Teachers must not only master their subjects; they must also develop strong teaching skills. Unfortunately, teacher training often does not provide teachers with the appropriate skills to teach reading to young children. A study of six sub-Saharan Africa countries found that teacher trainees received very little introduction to teaching early grade reading. In most countries, teachers were not prepared for multilingual classrooms. In addition, many of the training programmes did not offer classroom time with supervision and support, resulting in many new teachers starting without any practical experience.
Some countries have already put ambitious reforms in place to address the need for good teachers with solid training behind them. Our research has seen excellent results from a USAID project in Central America and the Caribbean training 3,400 teachers in reading and writing, for example, and from a distance learning programme for 25,000 teachers in Ghana. These kinds of reforms and teacher training programmes are needed on a much larger scale in order to overcome the learning crisis.
As noted by leaders at last week’s Learning for All Ministerial meeting, the current Millennium Development Goals for education focus only on access; quality of education and learning should be a priority for any new goals after 2015. And, if we want to help an additional 250 million children to learn the basics, we must start by attracting and training the best teachers.