As the world races towards achieving universal basic education by 2030, a glaring deficit of 69 million teachers looms large on the horizon, reveals new data from UNESCO. Sub-Saharan Africa bears the heaviest burden, facing an urgent need for an additional 24.4 million primary education teachers and a staggering 44.4 million for secondary education. Within this region, overcrowded classrooms and overburdened teachers are all too common, with a staggering 90% of secondary schools grappling with severe teaching shortages.
A host of challenges stands in the way of closing this educational gap. Lack of training, unattractive working conditions, and inadequate funding are all undermining the teaching profession and contributing to the global learning crisis. In this context, UNESCO’s Director-General, Audrey Azoulay, emphasizes the pivotal role of teachers in the fight for inclusive and quality education, asserting that “the future of our children depends” on them.
New figures unveiled for the 2022 World Teachers’ Day paint a grim picture: Sub-Saharan Africa requires 5.4 million primary-level teachers and 11.1 million secondary-level teachers to meet the 2030 Agenda targets. Southern Asia faces the second-largest deficit, with a projected need for 1.7 million primary-level and 5.3 million secondary-level teachers.
IMPROVING WORKING CONDITIONS
One of the primary obstacles in low-income countries is the heavy workload. UNESCO’s latest data reveals that, on average, each primary teacher in these nations contends with 52 pupils per class, compared to the global average of 26. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia shoulder particularly high ratios, with 56 and 38 pupils per teacher, respectively. In stark contrast, Europe and North America boast an average of only 15 pupils per teacher.
Compounding these challenges is the lack of training, with approximately 26% of primary and 39% of secondary school teachers in low-income countries failing to meet the minimum qualification requirements. This compares unfavourably to global figures of 14% and 16%, respectively.
In remote, underprivileged, and rural areas, these conditions worsen, further aggravated by the complexities of multi-grade, multi-lingual classrooms and acute learning needs.
Female teachers are disproportionately affected due to inadequate housing, lengthy and unsafe routes to school, and a lack of childcare services, making it difficult for them to sustain remote teaching positions. The underrepresentation of female teachers in specific knowledge areas and leadership roles remains an ongoing challenge.
ADDRESSING THE SALARY GAP
Non-competitive salaries exacerbate the vocational crisis in many countries. UNESCO’s data reveals that six out of ten countries pay primary school teachers less than other professionals with similar qualifications, particularly in high-income countries. In five out of six high-income countries, primary school teachers earn less than their peers in comparable professions. Notable exceptions include Singapore, Spain, and the Republic of Korea, where teacher salaries are more competitive, serving as models for others to follow.
The global teacher shortage is a complex challenge that demands immediate attention and innovative solutions. By enhancing working conditions, providing proper training, addressing gender disparities, and offering competitive salaries, we can take significant steps towards ensuring quality education for all and securing a brighter future for the next generation.