5 questions on the right to a qualified teacher

04 October 2018

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World Teachers’ Day 2018 put the spotlight on the right to a qualified teacher, a theme chosen to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that recognizes education as a fundamental human right. But what exactly is a ‘qualified teacher’?  

How do you define a ‘qualified teacher’?

A qualified teacher is commonly defined as a teacher who has at least the minimum academic qualifications required for teaching subjects at the relevant level in a given country. However, this definition does not include the notion of trained teachers, which refers to teachers who have received at least the minimum organized pedagogical training (pre-service and in-service) required for teaching at the relevant level. This results in teachers sometimes having the academic qualification required to teach, but not the pedagogical training, or vice versa. Some teachers even lack both academic qualifications and pedagogical training.

Do countries have enough qualified teachers?

No. In many low-income regions and countries, there is a shortage of both trained and qualified teachers. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 64% of primary school teachers are trained. In South Asia, this rate reaches 71%. Countries differ when it comes to programme duration, curriculum content, quality of field experience, practice teaching and many other aspects. Teacher education programmes may or may not include a period of supervised teaching practice or even require academic qualifications. Such qualitative differences in the training and qualifications of teachers affect instructional quality in the classroom and ultimately students’ learning achievement. As of 2015, only 62% of primary and 45% of secondary school teachers in sub-Saharan Africa had successfully completed the minimum pedagogical training required for becoming a teacher according to national standards.

How do you guarantee the right to a qualified teacher when there is a shortage?  

One of the main challenges to the right of education worldwide is the chronic shortage of teachers. With an estimated 263 million children and youth still out of school globally, the world will also need to recruit millions of qualified teachers in order to reach the 2030 education goal of universal primary and secondary education. Sub-Saharan Africa faces the most urgent need in filling the teacher gap: an estimated 17 million teachers are needed with 70% of countries facing an acute shortage at the primary level and 90% at the secondary level. This teacher gap is more pronounced among vulnerable populations, including girls, children with disabilities, refugee and migrant children, and poor children living in rural or remote areas.  

What is the impact of the teacher gap?

Teacher shortages are hampering efforts in many low-income countries to achieving quality, equitable, and inclusive education. To fill the teacher gap, countries resort to hiring teachers on temporary contracts who do not meet the training and qualifications requirements nor have proper professional status. These measures further increase the equity gap in education.

The equity gap is most prominent in emergency and conflict-situations, where qualified teachers are in short supply. In emergency contexts, providing children with education is key to helping them cope with the situation. But often, humanitarian agencies must recruit teachers with no preparation for responding to the complex needs of vulnerable children.

What does UNESCO do to improve the situation?

UNESCO has made the supply of well-trained, supported and qualified teachers one of its top priorities. Qualified teachers are fundamental to ensuring the right to a quality education. Since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 4 on quality and inclusive education, and the dedicated target (SDG 4.c) on teachers, World Teachers' Day has been an opportunity to take stock of achievements and promote the teaching profession.

Find out more about what UNESCO does in teacher development.