The persistent teacher gap in sub-Saharan Africa is jeopardizing education recovery

26/07/2021

Newly released projections reveal that more and smarter investment in teachers and teaching is needed to enable Africa’s children and youth to access quality education. According to new calculations, to reach education goals by 2030, sub-Saharan Africa will need to recruit a 15 million teachers.

The advocacy brief, Closing the gap – Ensuring there are enough qualified and supported teachers in sub-Saharan Africa, is published by the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030, hosted by UNESCO. The brief shows that, despite some gains in the past 5 years, progress in recruiting more teachers has been too slow, and many countries need to accelerate the number of teachers they recruit per year.

Of the countries in the region, Central African Republic, Chad, Mali and Niger will need the highest increase in the number of primary teachers in the coming years (6% or more growth annually). In secondary education, even higher annual growth in teacher numbers is needed: a handful of countries need more than 10% annual growth, including Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Mozambique, Niger and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Countries need teachers with the qualifications to provide education of high quality to children and youth. However, due to growth in enrolment in recent decades, a high proportion of teachers are unqualified. In 2000, an average of 84% of primary teachers had the minimum required qualifications, but by 2019, only 65% did.

The pupil–trained teacher ratio has recently improved in primary education sub-Saharan Africa, but remains high. On average, there is one trained teacher per 58 students at primary level, while in secondary the ratio is closer to 43 pupils per trained teacher. Higher pupil-trained teacher ratios imply less face-to-face student–teacher contact time, less individualized teaching and lower levels of quality education. 

Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region with the lowest percentage of female teachers in primary education, at just below 50%. In secondary education, 30% of secondary teachers were female in 2018. Within countries, shortages of female teachers are particularly acute in rural areas. This has important implications for girls’ enrolment, since female teachers have a positive impact on girls entering and remaining in school.

Resources are needed to recruit large numbers of new teachers, as well as to retain both teachers entering schools for the first time and those already teaching. As the study shows, even when countries cover the lion’s share of their education costs, low-income countries will need external financial support to fund essential non-salary costs, which include initial teacher training and continuous professional development, preparation for blended learning, access to ICT, and improved working conditions. For example, Burkina Faso faces a funding gap of US$97 million in its efforts to provide teacher training and other interventions for 2021–2025.

To provide critical initial and continuing professional development for teachers, both domestic finance and international aid will need to increase, and better policies and governance will be needed to ensure effective and efficient spending.

The COVID-19 crisis spotlighted the importance of teachers, but also the difficult working conditions in which many are teaching. Evidence points to heavy workloads and high levels of burn-out, as teachers have been asked to support communities and ensure learning continuity with little or no preparation or support. Countries and the international community are now looking towards the recovery of education systems, with ambitious plans for remedial learning to compensate for learning losses, which means that teacher support and preparation will be more crucial than ever. But without further investments in teacher professional development, governance and accountability, it is unlikely that these ambitions will be realized.

The Teacher Task Force is issuing a call for greater investment in teachers and teaching to ensure that all learners have access to a qualified and supported teacher by 2030. It recommends that governments and partners:

  • Develop holistic teacher policies and cost them properly, especially in the countries with the most severe shortages. These policies will allow countries to better understand where teachers are needed the most, in particular for disadvantaged areas, as well as to identify the most cost-effective interventions and the policy trade-offs required.
  • Increase domestic resources available for education and ensure that teachers are paid a living wage. Domestic education budgets need to be increased or maintained to ensure they reach the internationally agreed benchmark of national education expenditure of at least 15%–20% of GDP.
  • Increase international funding to education with a stronger focus on teachers and teaching, in particular initial and continued professional development.
  • Improve teacher preparation, support and working conditions to reduce attrition and ensure, in particular, that young teachers remain in the profession. Actions must urgently be taken to protect teachers, whether from attacks on schools or from COVID-19. 
  • Collect more national and internationally comparable data, if better and sounder educational financing and teachers’ planning is to be carried out, and to ensure that the investments made have their desired results.

The International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 is a global network of over 155 members (including countries, UN members and regional organizations, civil society organizations, the teaching profession and foundations) working to promote teachers and teaching issues. Its Secretariat is hosted by UNESCO at its headquarters in Paris.

Consult the advocacy brief Closing the gap – Ensuring there are enough qualified and supported teachers in sub-Saharan Africa.