By Peter Wallet, Teacher Task Force and Pierre Varly, Consultant
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on education systems. At its height, 194 countries had implemented country-wide school closures, affecting 63 million primary and secondary teachers. Sub-Saharan Africa has not been spared during this crisis, witnessing country-wide closures affecting some 6.4 million teachers.
To shed light on the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on contract teachers in sub-Saharan Africa, the Teacher Task Force conducted desk research and numerous interviews with representatives of ministries, trade union and UNESCO National Commissions. The research is supplemented by data collected through the joint UNESCO/UNICEF/World Bank Survey on National Education Responses to COVID-19 School Closures.
The Teacher Task Force is also publishing a Review on the use of contract teachers in sub-Saharan Africa, which takes a closer look at the situation of contract teachers in 23 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Closures have had consequences for all teachers. However, for contract teachers the negative effects have been greater. Contract teachers are those recruited through alternative pathways and working outside traditional employment arrangements supported by a civil service collective agreement.
Contract teachers receive a salary for the work they perform but do not receive the benefits that apply under public sector norms and standards, such as annual leave, pension or health insurance. As a result of their status, contract teachers typically receive lower remuneration and have less job stability, as their employment is subject to public budget fluctuations, market pressures and education providers’ ability to pay.
Due to the teacher shortage, contract teachers have long been used to fill gaps in government schools, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the school-age population has grown faster than countries’ capacity to train teachers.
Understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected contract teachers is essential, as they represent a high proportion of the teacher workforce in many countries. They represented 71% of all pre-primary to secondary level teachers in Niger in 2017, according to RESEN, while 64% of primary teachers in Chad were contracted community teachers in 2014. According to the new report released by the Teacher Task Force, contract teachers as a proportion of all teachers in primary education in Burkina Faso increased from being negligible in 2002 to 81% in 2015.
COVID-19 has had varying impacts on the employment and salaries of public sector contract teachers. Non-payment of teacher salaries not only poses a problem for individual, family and community well-being, but also prevents the delivery of quality education.
A recent joint UNESCO/UNICEF/World Bank survey of country responses to COVID-19 shows that Burkina Faso and Guinea, have suspended payments to contract teachers, while Ghana and Sierra Leone will continue to pay salaries but after applying reductions. In Uganda, contract teachers have not received regular salary payments.
In contrast, public sector contract teachers in Cameroon, Niger and Zambia have not been suspended. Moreover, they have received their salary payments regularly despite school closures.
Teachers not being paid can have dire short- and long-term consequences for education provision and can weaken education systems, which already suffer from a lack of trained teachers. In the short-term, many teachers may need to turn to alternative sources of work for income and will be unable to support pupils in distance learning. In the long term, when schools reopen, some schools, particularly in the private sector, may face teacher shortages due to attrition.
Governments can show leadership by mitigating some of the most severe impacts. Senegal, for example, set up a contingency fund called Force COVID-19. This response fund of 1,000 billion FCFA (USD 1.6 billion) guarantees wages, including those of both civil servants and contract staff working in public institutions, until classes reopen.
For the private sector, governments can influence private providers in the regular payment of salaries. Teacher representatives can also continue to play an important role. This includes both public sector teacher unions and those representing the interests and rights of private sector teachers.
Recommendations for maintaining teachers’ contracts and payment of salaries
Maintaining and supporting the entire teacher workforce, including contract teachers, throughout the COVID-19 related school closures will be critical to protect fully functioning education systems and ensure quality will be maintained during school reopening. Recommendations include:
- Enhance the provision of distance education: The spread of distance education is vital for the continuation of teaching and learning during school closures; as such it is also vital to maintain teacher contracts.
- Develop financing strategies to cover teacher salaries: The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) has announced an additional USD 500 million to support education systems affected by COVID-19 school closures. Governments therefore may have additional leverage to ensure that all teacher salaries – public and private – are paid during short crises.
- Strengthen teachers’ voices through teacher unions and civil society representation. Relationships between teachers’ unions also need to be strengthened to enhance sharing of information related to COVID-19, its impact and effective ways to maintain learning.
- Improve communication with parents, caregivers and communities about school closures and their impact on education.
- Improve data on non-civil servant teachers, including their salaries, training, qualifications and conditions of employment.
For more information, see the full article on the TTF website, and download the Review on the use of contract teachers in sub-Saharan Africa.