International Education Day: the right of every child to a qualified teacher has a price tag but is priceless.
26 janvier 2019

On this International Education Day (24 January) , 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. As a result, the quality of education is severely suffering and is seriously threatening the future of the coming generations.

What is more logical than a child having a book, a notebook, and a teacher to teach him or her to read and write? Yet, 263 million children are currently still doing totally without. Of 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, including  the 399 million of them who spent several years at school, without adequate materials and teaching methodologies for sure, and undoubtedly without “good teachers”.

Having a trained teacher is not so straightforward.

A « good » teacher , as explained by UNESCO has received a minimum of teacher training, or has met the minimum requirements of teacher training prior to being able to teach at a specific level of education. Such teacher is to be distinguished from the qualified teacher, who, at least, has the minimum academic qualifications required to teach subjects at a given level. The fact is that there currently is no official international standard for teacher training. The standards vary from one country to another in their format, length and content. So some teachers have been trained while others have degrees without having followed any teacher training. Still, others have nothing, neither training nor qualifications. This is simply because teacher training tends to diminish as the country needs more teachers. Indeed, the more a country needs teachers, the more it will tend to lower the level of requirements for teachers so it can recruit more easily, more quickly, or even hire teachers without any qualifications. Nowadays, the teaching profession is going through a real vocational crisis. It is not at all surprising – unfortunately – to see the practice of recruiting teachers without any degree becoming widespread. This is, of course, at the expense of the quality of teaching.

A « good » teacher for a 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. For example, to become a teacher in Shanghai, you have to study at university for four years and follow a year-long practical training. Teachers also have a mentor, an older experienced teacher, who advises and supports them, not to mention access to ongoing 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 pedagogy, methodologies 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 ethnic minorities. « 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. In secondary schools, that’s only 4 out of 10 teachers. Developed countries can not wash their hands in innocence either, since they have 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, just after a simple interview. Training teachers properly, giving them basic skills, training them throughout their life, advising them, in short, providing them with the means to execute their profession in changing situations, sometimes  in crisis situations, facing audiences at different levels, of all origins and cultures … all this all requires well-trained trainers, adequate facilities and equipment, and 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.

Teaching, an underfunded profession.

Nowadays 60% of education spending in developing countries comes from the countries themselves. They have been asked to reach Education for All by 2030 and to increase their education budget to 20% of the national budget. If they all reach this – which is unlikely as the financial effort is enormous – it will probably still not be enough to finance all aspects of quality training for teachers. To ask them for more would mean increasing tuition fees for families. A serious boost is therefore expected from international aid allocated to education. But the current levels of aid contributed will not be enough to fill the 44 billion USD a year gap that UNESCO currently lacks in order to achieve quality education by 2030. The Global Education Meeting, which was held on 3-5 December 2018, called for mobilizing more resources to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) asking 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 were the only members of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) to reach this target. France, although it increased its development aid to reach 0.43% in 2017, remains well below 0.7% of GDP and achieving this target soon does not seem in the pipeline either as it stands.

Is 2019 the year of change?

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, but also described teachers as « simple means of implementation » of quality education, which effectively downgraded their contribution to quality education. The growing realization since  2017 that there is a serious global learning crisis (« today more than 617 million children cannot read a simple sentence or make a calculation ») has at least caused the determining role of teachers in achieving quality education for all to be acknowledged and highlighted. It is no coincidence that since 2018 the UNESCO has made the right to have a qualified teacher the first on its list of rights in education.

Teacher training on the agenda at the UN and the G7.

A real awareness around the importance of teacher training is therefore growing. And 2019 could be the year we might see the first concrete effects of this change. This year important decisions in education are expected, including following the review by the High Level Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) 2019 of SDG 4 and the summit of the G7 in August, 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,  » has declared Jean-Yves le Drian, the French Minister of European and Foreign Affairs, during his speech to the diplomatic community in Biarritz on 18 December 2018, thus making teacher training one of the priorities of the G7 top in France.

Why not set international standards for teacher training?

In the opinion of teachers and education experts, it is about time for this. Lack of teacher training, ungrateful working conditions, lack of acknowledgement and low wages have led the teaching profession to an unprecedented crisis. According to UNESCO, there is a shortage of 69 million teachers worldwide to reach the goal of 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, such as France in the first place. Increasing funding for recruiting and training teachers is undoubtedly essential to combatting this global teachers shortage. Defining international standards for teacher training and qualifications, beyond the non-binding recommendations adopted by the UNESCO and the ILO (International Labour Organization) 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 that’s accessible to all. Lastly, it would make it possible to revalue a profession that is currently too often decried, unloved by youth but paradoxically dependent on that same youth for its 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, by 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.

Aide et Action Southeast Asia works in Cambodia, China, Laos and Vietnam to help make a quality education accessible for all. This includes teacher training, and building the capacity of communities, education actors and governments to train their teachers and support them in their roles.

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