EducationNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 48

Unesco report stresses more teachers in schools

Dr. Irshad Ahmad Farrukh is not surprised by findings of a UNESCO report that a shortage of well-trained teachers continues to undermine the quality of teaching and learning outcomes in Pakistan. Data compiled in the ‘Current Trends in the Status and Development Teachers’ report, released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in the second week of the current month, disclosed that too many teachers are leaving the profession, often early in their careers, due to unattractive working conditions.

Dr. Farrukh, the secretary, National Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (NACTE), says when untrained teachers with no aptitude for the profession are hired on minimal monthly wages, they will opt for leaving it at the first opportunity they would get for better earnings. In a special talk with Cutting Edge, he says it is a known fact that private schools hire underqualified and untrained teachers for Rs10,000 to Rs15,000 per month, then what education could be expected of them?

The Unesco report showed that teacher shortages are persistent, and a gender imbalance also continues, both among classroom teachers and school leaders. In many countries, teachers face overcrowded classrooms, longer working hours and a lack of professional and socio-emotional support.

The report recommended that the annual growth rate of primary teachers in Pakistan would have to be increased by about 50 per cent or more than 10 per cent annually to achieve the goal of universal primary education (UPE) by 2030. It stated that more secondary teachers were needed in the country due to the larger capacity for expansion at that level.

Another report, released by the Asian Development Bank, said that Pakistan’s public primary and secondary education system comprised 1.7 million teachers in 2021, reflecting an increase of 21pc compared to 2015. Despite the significant increase in the hiring of new teachers since 2019, a huge number of schools are being run only by one teacher, or there is a serious shortage of teachers, especially in rural areas across the country.

Though the average pupil-teacher ratios for all school levels across the country seem reasonable, vast differences exist across public schools within and across districts, accentuating challenges with optimal teacher deployment and multi-grade teaching remains widely prevalent nationally, the Unesco report said. At the middle, high, and higher secondary school levels, the inadequacy of subject specialists poses a major challenge to improving student learning outcomes. Despite recent teacher recruitment efforts, shortages of mathematics, science, and English language teachers persist, with even greater demand-supply gaps in rural areas.

In various low-income countries and some middle-income countries, especially Africa and Southern Asia, high birth rates mean that school-age populations are rapidly increasing, so substantial additional demand for teachers is likely, representing significant but necessary claims on education budgets. Pakistan tops the list of countries where the number of primary school age children is increasing with each passing month.

The Unesco report data, based on the most recent analysis by the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030, showed that teacher targets remain out of reach for the two regions with the greatest needs, sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. In Southern Asia, new projections call for an additional 7 million teachers by 2030, including 1.7 million in primary and 5.3 million in secondary education. Across both regions, greater numbers of secondary than primary teachers are needed due to the larger capacity for expansion at that level.

The report disclosed that all world regions still need more teachers, especially those that have a rapidly growing school-aged population. In most high-income countries where universal primary education (UPE) and secondary education (USE) have already been achieved or are very close to being achieved, demand for teachers is relatively low due to the often slow, stagnant or declining growth of the school-aged population. Since the return to in-person teaching after COVID-19 school closures, several high-income countries have also reported a lack of teachers: 9,100 primary teachers are needed in the Netherlands, 4,000 in France, 2,558 in Japan and many more in the United States, according to the report.

The report stated that teachers employed on the basis of contracts pose challenges in terms of qualifications and sustainability, and better long-term solutions are needed. The issue is more prevalent in Pakistan, believes the NACTE secretary. Women’s participation in the teaching profession is marked by the same gender-based inequalities as society at large, which poses problems for female teachers in their lives and career development, and also impacts educational quality and demand for education.

Dr Farrukh says the situation is quite critical in Pakistan. Women prove to be an easy prey for mushrooming private schools, which hire them for very low wages and exploit them. Most of the time, the main concern of female teachers remains getting a better job with better wages and a better environment, instead of imparting education to their students, he regrets.

However, the Unesco data showed that countries with the lowest proportion of females in the primary teacher workforce are strongly correlated with low female enrolment in secondary education, which is a prerequisite for teacher training. To address persistent teacher shortages and the lack of diversity in the teaching profession, the report suggests that improving the status and social standing of the teaching profession must be done to attract more candidates by reinforcing social dialogue and teacher participation in educational decision-making. It also recommended improving financing for teachers through integrated national reform strategies and effective governance, allocating 4 to 6pc of the gross domestic product (GDP) or 15 to 20pc of the public expenditure to education.