There’s been a global effort to expand universal access to primary school and provide all children a sound foundation for continuing on to lower secondary school in recent years. However, governments are losing about $129 billion per a year on poor-quality education, according to yearly monitoring report by UNESCO’s Education for All effort. About one in four students in poor countries (about 175 million young people) are not able to read a complete sentence as a result.
Accounting for underperforming educational systems are several factors including poor teacher training and cutbacks in funding, as UNESCO put it. To achieve universal primary education by 2015, or nearly 60% of the global total, sub-Saharan Africa would need about 225,000 additional teachers per year, according to education specialist Pauline Rose, director of the 2013 Global Monitoring Report by UNESCO’s program Education for All. By hiring contract teachers, who make up more than half the workforce in many West African countries, including Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Mali and Niger, many governments try to meet the demand.
“The big appeal from the point of view of governments and programs often supported by some donors,” she explained, “is that it reduces the wage bill of the government. The teachers are paid a fraction of the cost of civil servant teachers. So, you can hire far more teachers and get more teachers for the same amount of money.”
“At the same time, the teachers are not on fixed contracts so there seems to be advantages of having teachers that can be [dismissed] if at a later stage you don’t need so many or they are underperforming,” she added.
There’s another issue revolving around low pay and poor teaching conditions: motivation, as Rose put it.
“This is an important profession, she said, “and they need to be motivated to teach children well, to be in a classroom rather than doing other jobs, and this is one of the problems of recruiting teachers on these types of contracts.”
Teachers should come from a variety of backgrounds and geographical areas, as the report suggests. Candidates should receive improved training, including mentoring and adequate classroom experience. A step which could lead to recruiting them as civil servants, pay should also be raised to meet the teachers’ basic needs, according to the report. To ensure teachers are allocated to disadvantaged areas, governments could also offer incentives like good housing or bonuses. In addition, governments can reallocate how they spend their education funds as a way of improving education. Governments will also need to increase spending, as the Education for All report suggests. As William Eagle of Voice of America reports, financial support for education has waned or remained static in many countries.
To pay the salaries of the additional primary school teachers required by 2020, sub-Saharan Africa will need $4 billion annually, according to the report. Additionally, to achieve universal primary education, the report says that the region will need another $26 billion per year. Governments are encouraged by UNESCO to devote about 20% of their national budgets and 6% of their gross domestic product to education.
Suggestions for raising the additional funds are offered by the report.
“The problem with government is that it’s not spending enough on education,” said Rose. “Some are spending up to 20% of their budget on education but the problem is that they are not raising enough in taxation. We suggest there are ways to increase the tax base because there are weak approaches to collecting taxes…. It’s too easy for elites to avoid paying taxes. [Governments] need to tighten loopholes.”
African governments are deprived of over $60 billion per year through tax loopholes and corrupt practices, according to the report.