World Teachers’ Day 2014: Teacher challenges in the Sahel countries

World Teachers’ Day celebrated every year on 5 October provides an opportunity to reflect on the situation and status of teachers around the world.
What are the latest developments and major challenges in the seven countries covered by the UNESCO’s Regional Office in Dakar?

These countries are, with the exception of Cabo Verde, among the world’s poorest (Burkina Faso, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger and Senegal).

We have gathered a snapshot of each of the countries, which shows that teaching quality, teachers shortage and deployment as well as teachers status  remain the main obstacles in the sub-region.

Burkina Faso: alarming teacher shortage

Teacher shortage is one of the biggest challenges facing education in Burkina Faso. At least 5% of all upper secondary school graduates in 2020 would need to be drawn into teaching to fill the teacher gap.

Further estimations show that, in order to pay the salaries of the extra primary teachers needed to achieve universal primary education by 2020, the budget of education is required to grow by almost 10%. Similarly, the lower secondary education budget would need to grow by 6% by 2030 to achieve universal secondary education.

With this kind of teacher shortage, Burkina Faso is expected to reach the target of universal primary completion only after 2070 unless the country implements a strong strategy to address this issue.

For rural girls who are the most prone to be out of primary school, the expected year of universal primary completion is past the year of 2100.

Cabo Verde: turning towards competency

Cabo Verde joined the group of middle income countries in 2007. The GDP per capita is $4.400 compared to an average of $1.450 in the remaining group of countries covered by UNESCO Dakar.

Primary school teachers are paid around US$22 per day. While enrolment rate has gone up during the last years, repetition in both primary and secondary school remains a concern (10% repetition in primary school and around 20% in secondary school).

In 2005, Cabo Verde introduced a new curriculum for the basic education cycle. This reform implied a change from a knowledge- and teacher based learning system to a competency- and pupil centered learning system. Following the reform, new methods of literacy was implemented, including a move away from the repetition of letters to a focus on words and phrases.

Within this new framework teachers are supposed to be “mediators” who focus as much on child development and learning rhythm as on the content to teach. The new literacy methods have proved effective. Where learning reading and writing beforehand took up to one or two years, it now takes approximately three months. In terms of teacher training there is still a need to familiarize teachers with the new competency-based approach..

The Gambia: meeting the challenge of attracting teachers to rural areas

When it comes to teachers, the Gambia is confronted with the problem of quality. In 2009/10 unqualified teachers represented 32% of the teacher force in the basic cycle school. More recently in 2013, a test of primary teachers showed that English teachers scored poorly on basic English language tests. Only 54% correctly identified which of four words was closest in meaning to ‘enormous’.

Interestingly there is an increasing interest to be trained as teachers. The share of higher education students enrolled in teacher training doubled from 14% to 27% between 2005/6 and 2009/10.

As for many other countries, getting teachers to work in the areas where they are most needed is a challenge. If the best teachers rarely work in rural and poor areas, the children who are already disadvantaged will suffer even more. To face this challenge the Gambia has created incentives for teachers introducing an allowance of 30-40% of the base salary for positions in remote regions. By 2007, 24% of teachers had requested for a transfer to deprived schools.

Guinea-Bissau: training is more important than recruiting

Some countries have to deal with the double challenge of recruitment and training. With a percentage of less than 50 in terms of trained teachers, training teachers is a bigger challenge for Guinea-Bissau than that of recruiting new teachers. To reach universal primary education by 2020 the required annual growth of new teachers is less than 3% while the required annual growth of existing teachers to be trained is almost 12%.

Teacher salary in Guinea-Bissau is low. Teachers are paid no more than $5 a day, on average, which, if the teacher is the sole breadwinner, is not enough to keep a family of four above the poverty line.

Mali: a teacher landscape of poorly qualified teachers

As a respond to the urgent need of teachers, many countries have recruited teachers on temporary contracts. Contract teachers, who usually have little or no formal training, tend to be paid less than civil servant teachers and are often hired on less favorable terms. By the mid-2000s contract teachers made up half of the teaching force in West Africa.

In Mali this issue is especially pertinent. By the end of the 2000s, the proportion of contract teachers was almost 80%. With such a high number, quality in teaching is in jeopardy. A study of pupils’ skills using an Early Grade Reading Assessment and teacher observation found that few teachers were able to teach their pupils how to read. Teachers had been insufficiently trained in applying the required teaching methods. The quality of teachers makes its clear marks on learning outcomes. Nearly half of the students in Mali cannot read a word in their own language at the end of grade 2.

Over the past decade Mali has been recruiting teachers at a rate of 9% per year, which helped lower the number of pupils per teacher from 62 in 1999 to 48 in 2011. However, many of these teachers are untrained. A study of 804 teachers showed that only 15% had completed upper secondary school with some only having completed primary education. The ratio of pupils per trained teacher is 92:1, one of the world’s highest.

Niger: Overweight of contract teachers and lack of female teachers

Niger is also facing great challenges in terms of closing the teacher gap. The country would need to direct almost a quarter of its expected 20-year-old upper secondary graduates in to primary teacher education programs to achieve universal primary education by 2020. This is largely unrealistic and Niger is not expected to reach the target of universal primary completion before 2070).

As an attempt to deal with the acute shortage of teachers, many new teachers have been hired on short term contracts. By the end of the 2000s the proportion of contract teachers was almost 80% (29). In Niger, contract teachers earn half as much as civil service teachers. One study shows that the overall impact of contract teachers on learning achievement in French and mathematics was negative for grade 2 and 5 students. Niger has one of the lowest percentages of trained teachers in secondary school reaching only 17%.

Another issue that appears in the case of Niger concerns the amount of female teachers. Presence of female teachers is crucial to attract girls to school and improve their learning outcomes, especially in countries suffering from gender disparities. In Niger, the share of female teachers falls from 46% in primary school to 22% in lower secondary and all the way down to 18% in upper secondary school.

Senegal: insufficient teaching practice

Senegal was one of the first countries to introduce contract teaching, which was adopted as national policy in 1995 after primary education became free. By 2004, 56% of teachers were on temporary contracts that paid one-third of a regular teacher’s salary. This has influenced the pupil/teacher ratio, which has decreased from 49:1 in 1999 to 33:1 in 2011, while primary enrollment increased by 67% . Even with these numbers, Senegal is not expected to reach the target of universal primary completion before 2070.

On a more positive note, Senegal almost doubled its literacy rate, from 27% to 50% and more than doubled its female literacy rate, from 18% to 39% from 1988 to 2009.

Teacher education programmes in developing countries are often lacking opportunities for teacher trainees to get adequate practical classroom experience. This is the case for Senegal, where time spent on teaching practice is as short as nine weeks out of six months of training.

The data above is mainly drawn from the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/14: “Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All”.

UNESCO Dakar's reponse

UNESCO's Regional Office in Dakar is actively seeking to support countries in addressing these issues. 

The Office is responsible for implementing several capacity-building projects on teachers in Burkina Faso, Niger and Senegal:

UNESCO Dakar is also running a major teacher training project in Guinea-Bissau that lends support to the country's new emergency plan in education