10 steps for solving the global learning crisis
1 Fill teacher gaps
On current trends, some countries will not even be able to meet their primary school teacher needs by 2030. The challenge is even greater for other levels of education. Thus, countries need to activate policies that begin to address the vast shortfall.
At this primary school in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, there are 174 learners in one class. Many children don’t turn up to school because the learning conditions are so poor.
2 Attract the best candidates to teaching
It is important for all children to have teachers with at least a good secondary-level qualification. Therefore, governments should invest in improving access to quality secondary education to enlarge the pool of good teacher candidates. Policy-makers need to focus their attention on hiring and training teachers from under-represented groups, such as ethnic minorities.
3 Train teachers to meet the needs of all children
All teachers need to receive training to enable them to meet the learning needs of all children. Before teachers enter the classroom, they should undergo good quality pre-service teacher education programmes and they need ongoing training so as to develop and strengthen their teaching skills and adapt to changes such as new curriculum. Teachers should be trained to teach multiple grades and ages in one classroom, in multi-lingual classrooms, and to understand how teachers’ attitudes to gender differences can affect learning outcomes.
Hadiza is a teacher in Maradi, Niger. “As soon as I got my secondary school certificate I started teaching. I was trained in 45 days and then started my career as a teacher. When I started teaching I quickly understood that the training I received was not sufficient for me to teach well. There are many challenges in teaching and I think without good capacities and some experience we are not able to handle the challenges.
4 Prepare teacher educators and mentors to support teachers
To ensure that teachers have the best training to improve learning for all children, it is important for those who train teachers to have knowledge and experience of real classroom teaching challenges and how to tackle them. Policy-makers should thus make sure teacher educators are trained and have adequate exposure to the classroom learning requirements facing those teaching in difficult circumstances. To enable newly qualified teachers to translate teaching knowledge into activities that improve learning for all children, policy-makers should provide for trained mentors to help them achieve this transition.
Marianne is a teacher coach at a primary school in Alexandra township, Johannesburg. “The Minister of Education calls us coaches ‘a critical friend’: Critical in that we give guidance and problem solve with the teachers. And friend because we build up trust. And sometimes we are a disciplinarian, in a nice way.”
5 Get teachers to where they are needed most
Governments need to ensure that the best teachers are not only recruited and trained, but also deployed to the areas where they are most needed. Adequate compensation, bonus pay, good housing and support in the form of professional development opportunities should be used to encourage trained teachers to accept positions in rural or disadvantaged areas. Local recruitment can also ensure that quality teachers reach children in remote areas.
Terezinha, a 5th year teacher at a school in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said:” Schools located in hard neighbourhoods find it difficult to keep teachers on the job, as not all can stand the level of abuse they receive especially from older students. So teachers need an extra encouragement.”
6 Use a competitive career and pay structure to retain the best teachers
Governments should ensure that teachers earn at least enough to lift their families above the poverty line and make their pay competitive with comparable professions. An attractive career and pay structure should be used as an incentive for all teachers to improve their performance. These incentives can also be used to recognize and reward teachers in remote areas and those who support the learning of disadvantaged children.
Ewesit, 28, teaches under a tree in a mobile school in Turkana, Kenya“I have 115 students. They all live the nomadic life. I love my people and I don’t want them to continue being illiterate. In 2008 to 2010, we were paid. And then since 2010 up until now, we haven’t been paid. We still have hope. Maybe we are going to be paid. We just continue with our teaching because we want to assist our people. I love my people and I don’t want them to continue being illiterate.”
7 Improve teacher governance to maximize impact
Governments should improve governance policies to address the problems of teacher misconduct such as absenteeism, tutoring their students privately and gender-based violence in schools. Governments can also do more to address teacher absenteeism by improving teachers’ working conditions, making sure they are not overburdened with non-teaching duties. Strong school leadership is required to ensure that teachers show up on time, work a full week and provide equal support to all. School leaders also need training in offering professional support to teachers.
Anjaneyulu, a teacher at a government school in Andhra Pradesh. ‘We have to shut the school for the day if two teachers are absent. When we combine students of different grades, it causes a disturbance in the schedule. We have to alternate between one grade and the other, and whilst doing so, one grade that is not being taught loses interest.”
8 Equip teachers with innovative curricula to improve learning
Teachers need the support of inclusive and flexible curriculum strategies designed to meet the learning needs of children from disadvantaged groups. Policy-makers should ensure that early grade curricula focus on securing strong foundation skills for all and are delivered in a language children understand. It is important for curriculum expectations to match learners’ abilities, as overambitious curricula limit what teachers can achieve in helping children progress.
It is not sufficient for children to learn foundation skills in school. A curriculum that promotes interdisciplinary and participatory learning is vital for teachers to help children develop transferable skills.
Nomvuyo, a teacher at a primary school in Alexandra township, Johannesburg “Most of the teachers are applauding the Gauteng Primary Literacy and Mathematics Strategy programme. They have seen some positive changes in the weak learners, even if there’re still some who are struggling. The lessons are planned for us, so the teacher only need prepare. The learners, I think they are changing, because now they’re eager. Before, we would sometimes be lenient if they hadn’t done their homework, we’d give them extra time to do it. Now they know they have to do their homework because tomorrow it will be maths, and tomorrow it’s different work.”
9 Develop classroom assessments to help teachers identify and support students at risk of not learning
Classroom-based assessments are vital tools to identify and help learners who are struggling. Teachers need to be trained to use them so that they can detect learning difficulties early and use appropriate strategies to tackle these difficulties. Providing children with learning materials to evaluate their own progress, and training teachers to support their use, can help children make great strides in learning. Targeted additional support via trained teaching assistants or community volunteers is another key way of improving learning for students at risk of falling behind.
This primary school teacher, M. Yadiah, is using an ‘activity based learning’ method that has been mainstreamed in all government and government-aided primary schools in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The method works by generating internal feedback to improve learning. There are no examinations and no classroom rankings, lessening possible damage to self-esteem and motivation to drop out. Its success shows that it can be effective on a large scale.
10 Provide better data on trained teachers
Countries should invest in collecting and analysing annual data on the number of trained teachers available throughout the country, including characteristics such as gender, ethnicity and disability, at all levels of education. These data should be complemented by information on the capacity of teacher education programmes, with an assessment of the competencies teachers are expected to acquire. Internationally agreed standards need to be established for teacher education programmes so that their comparability is ensured.
More and better data on teacher salaries in low and middle income countries are also needed to enable national governments and the international community to monitor how well teachers are paid and to raise global awareness of the need to pay them well.