'Inclusive and equitable' education calls for 69 million more teachers, says UN

Meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for education requires improvements to teacher training and retention, according to a report released on World Teachers Day. 

Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/ Reuters
Palestinian schoolchildren attend a lesson in a classroom on the first day of a new school year, at a United Nations-run school in Khan Young in the southern Gaza Strip on August 28, 2016.

In order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals laid out by the United Nations for the next 14 years, 69 million new teachers will be needed around the globe, according to statistics released Wednesday by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 

These teachers are needed for the 263 million children worldwide who do not attend primary or secondary school, and to improve the quality of learning for those who already do, decreasing classes sizes too large to provide an adequate education.

Entire education systems are gearing up for the big push to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 by 2030,” UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) director Silvia Montoya said in a statement, released on October 5, World Teachers Day. “But education systems are only as good as their teachers. Global progress will depend on whether there even is a teacher, or a classroom in which to teach with a manageable number of children instead 60, 70 or even more pupils. We also need training, resources and support for teachers to do their job.”

The Sustainable Development Goals, released in 2015, see "development as a political process involving a wide range of actors – well beyond technocrats and politicians – in which foreign aid and global development institutions take a back seat. The priority is on leveraging local communities and investment," as The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time. 

"The political inclusivity of this process and the breadth of the goals decided on together say that governments alone can’t achieve this, that it really requires all hands on deck," Anthony Pipa, the US State Department’s special coordinator for the post-2015 development agenda, told the Monitor in September 2015. 

While the 17 goals intersect and overlap, the need for more teachers comes from the fourth goal: to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.”

While teachers are needed around the world, sub-Saharan Africa exhibits the deepest need for new teachers, with 17 million new primary and secondary teachers required to meet the needs of the fastest growing school-aged population in the world.

"In countries like Malawi, it is common to find over 100 children in classes in the early grades of primary school,” Pauline Rose, a professor of international education at Cambridge University, told BBC News. “This has been a persistent problem for many years."

Southern Asia faces a similar challenge, particularly at the secondary school level, where only 65 percent of children continue their education after finishing primary. The region will need another 15 million teachers, including 11 million in secondary schools, to improve the teacher to student ratio, currently estimated at 29:1.

At the World Humanitarian Summit last May, the United Nations' Special Envoy for Global Education seeks $3.8 billion toward addressing the lack of education for 75 million children around the world whose education has been affected by war and natural disasters, including in Syria, Iraq, and South Sudan.

One of the greatest challenges will be the fact that in many areas of the world the secondary school enrollment rate drops off significantly, making it difficult to find enough qualified teachers to fill the 69 million positions needed. 

The challenge of teacher recruitment is compounded by frequently low teacher salaries, which force many teachers to take on second jobs, taking up time and decreasing the quality of the education they are able to give their students, as the BBC reports. 

To help realize its education goals, the Sustainable Development Goals call for greater support from the international community for developing countries' teacher training programs. 

“Teachers not only help shape the individual futures of millions of children; they also help shape a better world for all,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, International Labour Organization Director-General Guy Ryder, United Nations Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark, and Education International General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen said in a joint message. “How can we recruit new teachers and attract them to the vital profession of teaching when around the world, so many are undertrained, underpaid and undervalued?”

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