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Building transformative education systems through holistic teacher policy development: Lessons from sub-Saharan Africa

This blog was written by Prof. Yusuf Sayed to mark the launch of the joint UNESCO/Teacher Task Force report, Supporting teachers through policy development: Lessons from sub-Saharan Africa, at the African Federation of Teaching Regulatory Authorities (AFTRA) 10th Teaching and Learning Conference and 12th Roundtable in Namibia, 9-12 May 2023.

The Transforming Education Summit (TES) underlined that to build more resilient and transformative education, countries must address a number of teacher issues, including shortages of qualified personnel, limited opportunities for education and training, low professional status, inadequate working conditions, and limitations to their empowerment and capacity to innovate. But even while these issues are front of mind for a lot of policy-makers, the teacher shortage keeps on growing. About 16.5 million teachers need to be recruited in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve universal primary and secondary enrolment. Moreover, a substantial minority of teachers have had limited access to training or opportunities to enhance their competencies, and just 69 per cent of primary teachers and 61 per cent of secondary teachers hold the minimum required qualifications in the region. Teachers’ working conditions, salaries and contractual positions are inadequate, and their involvement in policy formulation is limited. In 20 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, primary teachers earn, on average, less than PPP $7,500 per annum.

Teacher policy is key to achieving the SDGs

Target 4.c of the Sustainable Development Goals commits the world to: ‘By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States.’ This underscores the growing global understanding that quality teachers who can teach effectively are needed to ensure inclusive, equitable and quality lifelong learning for all. Multiple regional policies come to the same conclusion, including the African Union Continental Education Strategy for Africa (AU-CESA) 2016-2025, the Africa Agenda 2063 and the Southeast Asia Teachers Competency Framework.

Developing holistic, comprehensive national teacher policies is essential to achieving these goals and supporting teachers to play their part in building a more sustainable world. To this end, the Teacher Task Force and UNESCO co-developed the Teacher Policy Development Guide to help national policy-makers and practitioners develop holistic, comprehensive and integrated teacher policies that address all dimensions of teachers’ work and practices. The Guide argues for a long-term systemic approach, together with ongoing review and reflection to continually improve and align teacher policy to the wider policy landscape, including education sector plans, cross-sectoral perspectives and national goals.

The Guide has already been used across sub-Saharan Africa to develop effective teacher policy. Supporting teachers through policy development: Lessons from sub-Saharan Africa reviews this progress to highlight lessons, good practices and recommendations that other countries can apply. Participating countries included Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Togo and Uganda.

Developing structured and inclusive policy development processes

The process used to develop policy is critical to its eventual success. The review highlights the importance of using collaboration frameworks to develop policy, based on a wide range of perspectives and voices, including those of civil and teacher service commissions, teacher training institutions, regional education managers and inspectors. Reflecting teachers’ voices was found to be critical; frameworks that emphasized social dialogue and drew in teachers and their representatives helped ensure teachers’ buy-in.

Across countries, a two-tier committee structure was found to be effective for managing policy development processes. A steering committee of a core team of higher-level decision-makers provided strategic guidance and oversight, while a technical committee, reporting to the steering committee, was responsible for the day-to-day developmental work. This system helped to ensure that processes were seen to be inclusive and transparent, with meaningful stakeholder involvement throughout.

Using the Teacher Policy Development Guide to inform content

The Guide was used to inform the content of countries’ teacher policies, and was found to be easy to implement, practical and relevant. As the Guide recommends, countries linked teacher policy vision to overall education policies and plans and national social and macroeconomic development frameworks. All countries included in their policies the Guide’s nine key dimensions: teacher recruitment and retention; teacher education; deployment; career structures; teacher employment and working conditions; teacher reward and remuneration; teacher standards; teacher accountability; and school governance. Each country adapted the dimensions to their own contexts, arranging them differently around national thematic strategic axes determined through a reflective and collaborative process. Some countries found they had additional policy-making needs, which resulted in the development of new dimensions, such as social dialogue and teacher autonomy, as well as cross-cutting themes of inclusivity and gender.

Lessons for development partners

The review showed that development partners, including international organizations, bilateral aid agencies and civil society organizations, can play a vital role in supporting countries to develop their policies, by providing financial and technical support and assisting with coordination. International agencies can also help build international forums and online platforms for policy learning and sharing, allowing countries to learn from each other and adapt policy responses to their national contexts. Ongoing initiatives, such as capacity-building programmes for teachers, school leaders and other education staff, can also provide valuable lessons for policy-making.

Holistic teacher policy as a key lever to transform education

Teachers can change the world, but they need help to do it. Education policy reform must place teachers at its heart and as indicated in the final recommendations on teachers during the TES, holistic teacher policies must be created, with teachers playing a central role in policy development and educational decision-making through social dialogue. Such teacher policies can provide teachers with better working conditions and the support they need to deliver equitable learning experiences for all learners, including the marginalized and disadvantaged. Yet for this to happen, improvements in the financing of teachers through integrated national reform strategies and effective functional governance must also be addressed if education is to truly transform and the Sustainable Goals are to be realized.

Consult the UNESCO/Teacher Task Force report: Supporting teachers through policy development: Lessons from sub-Saharan Africa.

Photo credit: Kehinde Olufemi Akinbo