UNESCO Report: Universal Primary Education a Long Way Off

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), states in a new report that in order to get every child in an elementary school classroom by 2015, 4 million more teachers will be needed.

The report says that there is a serious global shortage of teachers in 93 countries, says Rebecca Klein of The Huffington Post.  If these countries are to achieve universal primary education (UPE) in the next few years, they will need to hire millions more teachers. The report was released to correspond with World Teachers’ Day on Sunday.

Experts say that universal primary education will probably not occur by 2015, but hope it will happen in the near future.  Still, to get all young people in school by 2020, the world will need 12 million additional teachers.

At this time, there are 58 million children of primary school age worldwide who are not in classrooms. The most severe shortage of teachers is in sub-Saharan Africa, where 70% of countries do not have enough teachers; where schools are overcrowded; and where maintenance and resources are severely lacking. A third-grade teacher in South Africa, Nomzekelo Ndibongo, said children are leaving school:

“These conditions caused some of these children to drop out of school because they cannot cope with broken chairs, broken desks and sitting on bricks, and classrooms with no doors and broken windows. So many of them dropped out,” Ndibongo said in a case study provided by UNESCO to The Huffington Post.

The goal of universal primary education by 2020 in this region would cost billions, which most countries do not have. Some would have to rely on donations from outside their countries. On top of this, properly trained teachers who measure up to national standards are hard to find in 30 of the 91 countries that were part of UNESCO’s research.

“Having enough teachers is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to improve education quality: newly hired teachers also need to be motivated, well trained and willing to expand their pedagogical toolkits,” the report notes.

For UPE by 2020, the countries will need to add about 2.4 million new teachers and 10.2 million replacement teachers for those who leave the profession because of attrition. The Arab States come in at second for having the greatest shortage of teachers, largely due to the growth of the school-age children population. In order to achieve UPE in 2030, half a million new teachers will be needed and 2.1 million will be needed to replace those who have left due to attrition.

In the Central African Republic, pupil-teacher ratio is the highest in the world at 80:1 and only 72% of primary-age children are enrolled in school. Here, the country will have to triple public spending on primary education to hire enough teachers by 2020, and that will only pay teachers’ salaries. More will be needed for teacher education, school construction and learning materials.

People who are teaching need at least a quality and relevant secondary education. But in many low-income countries this kind of education is hard to come by, so at least 10% of expected upper secondary school graduates would need to be channeled into primary teacher education programs in order to have UPE by 2020. In Niger, 30% 0f all graduates would have to become teachers to fill the necessary positions. In Benin, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, and Liberia, training existing teachers is more important than recruiting new teachers. In Ethiopia around 20% of primary school teachers in grades 1 – 4 were trained in 2010-2011, compared to 83% in grades 5 to 8. Only 1% of teachers in Somali were trained and 4% in Afar, the two most remote rural regions, compared to 43% in Addis Ababa.

UPE will be blocked by teacher shortages unless something is done right now. Regions must also prepare for a growing number of students in already overcrowded classrooms. This pressure has led some countries to hire untrained teachers. The UNESCO report states:

This short-term approach will not deliver the promise of UPE and the ambitions of the post-2015 era, whereby every child is in school and learning.

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