This cliché emblazoned on chipped mugs in school staff rooms all over the world is impossible to refute. We all know teachers have the power to transform both individual lives, and the fortunes of nations. And, as the theme of today’s World Teachers’ Day goes, the right to a good quality education requires having a good quality teacher. So why are we still not investing enough money nor implementing the right policies to recruit them in sufficient numbers?
To meet the target of universal primary education many poorer countries have been hiring untrained and unqualified teachers, some of whom had not even finished secondary school. This widespread policy was a false economy. Quality should never be sacrificed to quota-filling. Teachers are not a commodity.
Today there are still significant shortfalls of trained teachers in many parts of the world. UIS data from 2016 show that globally only 86% of primary school teachers are trained but the share falls to 77% in Southern Asia, to 70% in the Caribbean and to 62% in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Eritrea, Ghana and Niger, these percentages have actually decreased since 2000.
The link between a teacher’s experience and his or her effectiveness is not disputed. The number of years of experience a teacher has accumulated is directly related to the quality of his/her students’ learning outcomes. And teacher experience has an even greater impact on the educational trajectories of disadvantaged children than it does on those of other children.
But in most countries, the most experienced teachers shun schools with a high concentration of disadvantaged pupils, entrenching educational inequality. They pick high-performing schools in desirable neighbourhoods, as the 2013 OECD TALIS showed.
Governments deploy various strategies for teachers to work in challenging schools
As we will show in the forthcoming 2019 GEM Report on migration and displacement, those who teach refugees in camps or migrant children in slums are often untrained and underpaid. What motivation do these teachers have to stay the course and build experience, after all? These children are more likely to have learning needs which teachers find they are not equipped to handle. They may not understand the language of instruction, their education may have been interrupted, they may be suffering from trauma.
Some countries are trying to improve teacher quality for disadvantaged groups. Japan uses a compulsory rotation system to ensure good quality teachers are allocated to rich and poor areas of the country for contracts lasting between 5 and 7 years. In the Republic of Korea, teachers working in disadvantaged schools benefit from incentives such as an additional stipend, smaller class sizes, less teaching time, the chance to choose their next school after teaching in a difficult area and greater promotion opportunities. As a result, over three-quarters of teachers in villages have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 32% in large cities, and 45% have more than 20 years of experience, compared with 30% in large cities.
Recruiting teachers from disadvantaged communities can be another way to expand the pool of teachers working in these areas. In Lesotho, a system of local recruitment allows school management committees to hire teachers, who apply directly to the schools for vacant posts. As a result, there is relatively little difference in pupil/teacher ratios between rural and urban areas. Sweden and Germany have recently implemented programmes to train refugee teachers intensively and hire them to teach both nationals and refugees. Chad has a programme to recognize refugee teachers’ prior qualifications and make the most of their potential.
An inclusive education, as we will be covering in depth in the 2020 GEM report, values the education of ‘all students’, and teachers are central to that. Better teacher management is crucial for ensuring all children have their right to a qualified teacher realized. When managed effectively, and combined with specialized training and appropriate materials for teachers to engage effectively with students from all backgrounds, perhaps we really can ‘change anything’ as the saying goes. The sky is the limit.