More children, fewer teachers: new UNESCO-ilo study sees global teacher shortage causing decline in quality educationParis/Geneva - Relentless population growth and declining working conditions are creating a severe shortage of teachers in the world's classrooms that may lead to a slide in education standards, according to a new global study by UNESCO and the Geneva-based International Labour Office.
The study, released on the occasion of World Teachers' Day (October 5), found that the number of school-aged children had outpaced the growth in the number of teachers worldwide in the 1990s, packing classrooms in some developing countries with as many as 100 students per teacher.
At the same time, the study reveals that declining working conditions and low salaries in the industrialized nations are discouraging new recruits to the profession, creating shortages and threatening to diminish the quality of education at a time when the need for new knowledge and skills is growing dramatically.
The Statistical Profile of the Teaching Profession* is based on the most extensive set of data ever gathered on teachers. It looks at how many teachers there are, who they are and what training they have received, their working conditions and how much their governments invest in them. It clearly links the status of teachers with the quality of education: in those countries where teachers enjoy relatively good employment conditions, education tends to be given high priority and is of higher quality.
The data show that a concerted effort has been made in many developing regions, where demand for more teachers is highest, and where two thirds of the world's 59 million teachers live and work. The number of primary teachers in these countries increased on average by almost nine percent between 1990 and 1995. But, the report finds, the population of primary school-age children there rose by the same amount.
At secondary level, the number of teachers grew substantially faster than the secondary school age population in the developing countries (14.3 percent and 6.0 percent respectively). In the Least Developed Countries (LDCs)** the difference was much less marked (16.4 percent and 13.9 percent). However, the study notes that almost half (228 million) of the total youth population of secondary age in these countries was out of school. As more of these young people get into school, demand for teachers will increase exponentially.
The ratio of primary pupils to teachers remains three times higher in the Least Developed Countries than in developed ones. In countries such as Benin, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Gabon, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique and Senegal, for example, the study reports an average of more than 50 primary-age pupils and often as many as 70 for every teacher in the overall population. These are national averages, which need to be distinguished from class sizes. The report points out that average values of the order of 70:1 mean that classes of more than 100 children are not unusual. This compares with an average of 16 pupils for every teacher in the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Denmark, for example, counts 10.6 primary pupils for every teacher, Hungary 10.9, Italy 11.3, Luxembourg 12.5 and Norway 12.6.
Developing country teachers tend to be very young and inexperienced. In many of these nations more than 30 percent of teachers are under 30 years of age: in Indonesia, the under 30s account for more than 52 percent of primary school teachers. Although most teachers have the national academic qualifications to do their job, these qualifications vary widely, and in many of the Least Developed Countries the majority of primary teachers have, at most, a lower secondary qualification, and frequently no professional training at all. This is the case for almost 50 percent of Uganda's teachers, 40 percent of Togo's teachers and some 35 percent of teachers in Cape Verde.
The report notes that the number of women teachers increased throughout the 1990s, but added that they still remain well under 50 percent of the total in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where the presence of more women teachers could help increase the access of girls to schooling. In addition, women remain under-represented, often severely, in educational management positions, providing further evidence that the "glass ceiling" remains a reality in education.
Developed countries are also facing a difficult future. The teaching force as a whole is aging, and governments are battling to attract young people to the profession. In Germany and Sweden for example, more than 70 percent of primary teachers are over 40. This means that the majority of teachers received their initial training 15 to 20 years ago, but the knowledge and skills needed by students has changed dramatically since then. The report notes that in-service training is offered in many countries, but questions its quality and relevance.
Research indicates that low salaries may be partly responsible for lack of new recruits. In the OECD countries, for example, a teacher with 15 years experience earns an average of US$27,525 annually (ranging from a low of US$8,252 in Hungary to a high of US$43,627 in Switzerland), which the report says is significantly less than equally qualified professionals in other fields. Nonetheless, this is still several times the earnings of teachers in developing countries, where salaries fell steadily throughout the 1990s. In Indonesia, a teacher with 15 years experience earns an average US$2,938 annually, while in Peru, all teachers, regardless of the level they teach or their experience, earn little more than US$4,700 a year.
The report analyses the trade-offs made by governments to maximize the efficiency of their education systems. In some countries, such as Peru, teachers' low salaries are partly compensated by a relatively light teaching load of about 648 hours annually. In the Philippines, teachers are paid more (about $US 10,640 annually), but work an average of 1,176 hours per year and teach classes of over 50 students.
Juggling these various elements is obviously a complex task, especially for poor countries. But getting the balance right is vital for building and maintaining a professional teaching corps. In 1966, UNESCO and the ILO adopted the Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers, which stresses the central role of teachers in education and argues that salaries and conditions should reflect their importance to society.
"The Recommendation is as relevant as ever," says UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education John Daniel. "The teacher shortages we are beginning to see everywhere have various causes," he adds. " But a common factor seems to be the diminishing status of teachers and a concommitant decline in working conditions in many countries. As a result, we are seeing qualified teachers quit the profession for other work, and potential recruits looking upon teaching as a last resort."
"What we are seeing are the first signs of a looming teaching crisis in the global education system," says Sally Paxton, ILO Executive Director for Social Dialogue. "At a time when population changes as well as changing knowledge and skills needs are placing new demands on schools and pupils alike, governments and their education partners quickly need to find a way to open meaningful dialogue with teachers and their unions to discuss ways to improve the lot of the world's teachers."
*The Statistical Profile of the Teaching Profession draws on information from various sources including the European Network for Information in Education (Eurydice), International Labour Office (ILO), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). UNESCO's International Bureau of Education (IBE) and its Institute for Statistics (UIS). The UIS is preparing a major report quantifying the global teacher shortfall, which will be released in the first half of next year.
** The UNESCO classification of the least developed countries comprises Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Cormoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kiribati, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Rwanda, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania,Vanuatu, Yemen and Zambia.
Contacts: Sue Williams
UNESCO Bureau of Public Information, Editorial Section
Tel: (+33) (0)1 45 68 17 06,
Thomas W. Netter - Chief, Media Programmes Section
ILO Department of Communication
Tel: (+41) 22 799 79 73
A B-roll is available on this subject.
Contact Carole Darmouni
(+33) (0) 1 45 68 17 38/ 54 81