Teachers play an integral role in children and young people’s lives. They are often the first significant adult role model that young children encounter outside of their family, and can influence not only what they learn at school, but the values, beliefs and attitudes that accompany their lives. Today is World Teachers’ Day, and this year’s theme – Valuing Teachers, Improving their Status – should be a top priority for all of us. Having trained, qualified and motivated teachers benefits all of us, and especially now, as, fortified with an ambitious vision in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, we look to education to help secure a prosperous, peaceful, just and sustainable future.
Under the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development we are asking teachers to do more than ever before. We need teachers who are prepared to teach sustainable development and global citizenship, tolerance and gender equality, comprehensive sexuality education and human rights; yet these topics are not adequately covered in teacher education. More than two thirds of European countries do not include sustainable development and global citizenship in teacher training. The GEM Report argues that schools need to take a holistic approach to tackling environmental challenges, which means that both teachers and students need to learn about climate change and its underlying causes. But if teachers don’t understand climate change themselves, how can we expect them to impart knowledge to their students? Short teacher training modules appear to hold significant benefits for teachers’ understanding and confidence on teaching about climate change. In one study cited in our latest GEM Report, the percentage of prospective teachers who felt climate change was a conceptually difficult subject to teach fell from over 21% to about 7% after fewer than four hours of training.
We need a growing supply of qualified teachers and yet many have not received even minimum training.
Data remains scarce on the number of qualified teachers, and it is difficult to compare across countries given that national standards of qualification vary and there is no common understanding of what being a ‘qualified teacher’ entails. However, in 2014, on average, 82% of teachers had the minimum qualifications required to teach in pre-primary education, 93% in primary education and 91% in secondary education. In sub-Saharan Africa, UIS data shows that less than half of pre-primary and less than three quarters of secondary school teachers are trained.
Training alone isn’t enough; teachers need to be supported in other ways, and motivated to teach. The formulation of the SDG4 target on teachers has been rightfully criticised as it looks only at the ‘supply of qualified teachers’ and not other elements that are essential to ensuring the profession’s broader contribution to the provision of good quality education – like their working conditions and motivation. Our latest GEM Report looks at the challenges – and ways around those challenges – for monitoring motivation of teachers in the future.
Teacher motivation comes from a combination of external factors such as working conditions, remuneration and status, with individual traits, values and skills. While it is inherently difficult to measure high levels of motivation, one attempt to track low motivation is to monitor the rate at which teachers leave the profession. In Punjab province, Pakistan, 24% of public schools reported that a teacher had left in the previous year, compared to 71% of private ones, which had lower pay and less job protection. In Uganda, teacher attrition fell by 24% from 2005 to 2006 following a 33% pay rise.
A competitive remuneration package is an essential component of recruiting and retaining the best people to the profession. Salaries differ across countries, and contexts, but some insights can be drawn from comparable countries that provide information on the remuneration teachers are receiving. For example, salary progression varies enormously in Europe. In Denmark, primary and lower secondary school teachers with 12 years of experience can reach the maximum statutory salary, which is less than 20% above the minimum level. By contrast, in Hungary, primary and secondary school teachers need 42 years of experience to reach the maximum statutory salary, which is more than twice the minimum level.
However, motivation is about more than pay. Recent studies show that teachers’ levels of job satisfaction are higher when they have opportunities to participate in decision-making in schools, collaborate with colleagues and receive meaningful feedback from their supervisors. A more nebulous motivating factor is the status that teachers are afforded in society, which is something that everyone can play a role in influencing.
Teachers are pivotal to the right to education, and they are key to ensuring the next generation are equipped with the skills, knowledge, attitudes and values needed to meet the challenges we face in the future. We could do more to better monitor – and so hold education systems to account for – how well teachers are motivated in their profession, and encouraged to develop in the job. More appropriate data collection would be through a central human resources database that records both attrition and transfers between schools. An alternative approach would be a survey that collects information directly from teachers. The effort is certainly worth it: An inspiring teacher can transform a child’s life; just think how an entire profession of qualified, motivated and well supported teachers could transform a generation of children and the world they inhabit.