International Education Day: the right of every child to have a qualified teacher has a price tag but is priceless.
On this International Education Day (24 January), as recently adopted by the United Nations, let us remember that the right of every child to have a trained and qualified teacher, is still far from being respected. This right has a significant cost that many countries, including the most developed ones, have a tough time paying for. The quality of education is severely suffering and is seriously threatening the future of forthcoming generations.
What is more logical than that a child has a book, a notebook, and a teacher to teach him to read and write? Yet, 263 million children are currently still doing totally without. For those who do have the opportunity to go to school, many of them go without equipment, sit on the floor, without a pen or a sheet of paper, and have no “good teachers”. As a result, 617 million children around the world cannot read a single sentence today, even for the 399 million children who spent several years on school benches. This is without adequate materials and pedagogies for sure; undoubtedly without “good teachers”.
Having a trained teacher is not so straightforward.
A “good” teacher means, as explained by UNESCO: having received a minimum of teacher training, or having met the minimum requirements of teacher training prior to the ability to teach at a specific level of education. He/she is to be distinguished from the qualified teacher, who has at least the minimum academic qualifications required to teach subjects at a given level. The fact is that these days there is no official international standard for teacher training. It varies from one country to another in its format, length and content. Some teachers are thus trained; others have degrees without having followed any teacher training. Still, others have nothing, neither training nor qualification. Simply because teacher training tends to diminish as the country needs teachers. Indeed, the more a country needs teachers, the more it will tend to lower the level of teachers to recruit more easily, more quickly, even to hire teachers without any qualifications. Nowadays, the “teaching” profession is going through a real crisis of vocations. It is not surprising – unfortunately – to see the recruitment of teachers without any degree become widespread. This is, of course, at the expense of the quality of teaching.
one “good” teacher for quality education
However, evidence has highlighted the impact of teacher training on the quality of the education system: Shanghai, Finland and South Korea, which are credited with the best education systems in the world, have understood this well. So in order to become a teacher in Shanghai, you have to study at the university for four years and follow a year-long practical training. Teachers also have a mentor, an older teacher, who advises and supports them. Not to mention access to further education to expand their knowledge of theory and practice over the years. All these elements make teachers not mere transmitters of knowledge, but true learners, pedagogues, educational thinkers, who are committed to their jobs, their pedagogies and their students’ success.
A long and expensive training
This “ideal” situation remains unfortunately still far too idyllic. In many low-income regions and countries, there is a serious lack of both trained and qualified teachers. In Cambodia, where Aide et Action intervenes, teacher training remains extremely difficult, explains Vichika Lou, who has been teaching for just 7 years in one of the schools where Aide et Action develops bilingual education for children from minorities ethnic. “I wanted to become a teacher, but it has been a long, hard road. To become a teacher, we need to go to the State School for Primary Teachers, which is far away from home in a different province. There is no such school in our own province. After that, I also moved to Banlung, the capital of Ratanakiri province, for 2 years to study English.“
In sub-Saharan Africa, only 6 out of 10 teachers are trained in primary education. They are only 4 out of 10 in secondary schools. Developed countries do not wash their hands in innocence either, since they also cut back on training. France, in this respect, is a bad pupil with its increasing use of contract workers, people recruited by the National Education system to teach, without a selective entry exam, or adequate training and followed by a simple interview. Training a teacher properly, giving him basic skills, training him throughout his life, advising him, in short; providing him with the means to execute his profession in changing situations, sometimes a crisis situation, facing multi-level audiences, of all origins and cultures: this all requires well-trained trainers, facilities, equipment, time … and this is extremely expensive. For the time being, few countries have the financial means – even the political will – to properly fund teacher training.
A teacher, an underfunded profession
Nowadays 60% of education spending in developing countries comes from countries themselves. They have been asked to reach Education for All by 2030 and to increase their education budget by 20% of the national budget. If they all reach it – it is unlikely as the financial effort is enormous – it will probably not be enough to finance all aspects of quality training for teachers. To ask them more would be to increase tuition fees for families. A serious boost is therefore expected from international aid allocated to education. But current levels will not be enough to fill the € 39 billion a year gap that the UNESCO currently lacks in order to achieve quality education by 2030. The World Education Meeting, which was held on 3-5 December 2018, called for mobilizing more resources to achieve Sustainable Development Goal number 4 (SDG 4) calling on donor countries to increase their development aid by 0.7% of GDP as they committed to it. As a reminder: in 2017 only the United Kingdom, Denmark, Luxembourg and Sweden reached this target among Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members. France, although it increased its development aid to reach 0.43% in 2017, remains well below 0.7% of GDP and does not have this currently in the pipeline to achieve soon.
A possible change in 2019?
Still, 2019 could be the year of change. The Sustainable Development Goals, adopted in September 2015, certainly called for a significant increase in the supply of qualified teachers and the support of the international community for teacher training in developing countries. Yet, teachers were described as “simple means of implementation” of quality education, which effectively downgraded their contribution to quality education. The discovery in 2017 of a serious crisis of learning in the world (“today more than 617 million children cannot read a simple sentence or make a calculation”) at least triggered highlighting the determining role of teachers in achieving quality education for all. It is no coincidence that since 2018 the UNESCO has made the right to have a quality teacher the first of rights in education.
Teacher training on the agenda of both the UN and the G7
A real awareness around the importance of teacher training is therefore set in motion. And 2019 could be an opportunity to see the first concrete effects of this change. This year important decisions in education are expected, including the review by the High Level Policy Forum 2019 of SDG 4 and in August the summit of the G7, which France has just started to chair. “We will continue to mobilize international funding for universal, quality education, including girls’ access to school and teacher training, “said Jean-Yves le Drian, Minister of European and Foreign Affairs during his speech to the diplomatic community in Biarritz on 18 December, thus making teacher training one of the priorities of G7 France.
Why not set international standards for teacher education?
In the opinion of teachers and education experts, it would be high time. Lack of teacher training, ungrateful working conditions, lack of acknowledgement or low wages have led the teaching profession to an unprecedented crisis. According to the UNESCO, there is a shortage of 69 million teachers worldwide to reach Education for All in 2030. The shortage is most severe in sub-Saharan Africa, but it does not exclude, by far and beyond, developed countries, France in the first place. Increasing funding for recruiting and training teachers is undoubtedly essential to combat this shortage. Defining international standards for teacher training and qualifications, beyond the non-binding recommendations adopted by the UNESCO and the ILO in 1966 concerning the status of teaching staff, would also significantly improve the quality of education and bring the world closer to the goal of quality education accessible to all. Lastly, it would make it possible to revalue a profession that is currently too often decried, rejected by the youth but paradoxically dependent on youth to build their future: the number of school-going children will continue to increase in the years to come, reaching 444 million children in sub-Saharan Africa only, in 2030. Not entrusting these young people in the hands of trained and qualified teachers, who are able to give them the keys to be tomorrow’s citizens, would be an unforgivable crime.