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Addressing the global teacher shortage: a path to quality education for all

This blog post originally appeared on the Global Partnership for Education's "Education for All" Blog on 9 November 2023.

As we approach 2030, we face a significant challenge: the global shortage of teachers. However, there’s room for optimism. The forthcoming Global Report on Teachers, a collaborative effort by the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 and UNESCO, promises insights and solutions to tackle this issue.

Teachers play a transformative role in shaping the future. They are central to unlocking every child’s potential and driving the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 4, focused on providing inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030. Yet, near the midpoint of 2030, we are confronted with the alarming reality of a pervasive global teacher shortage. To help us understand this problem and how to tackle it, the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 and UNESCO will release the first Global Report on Teachers in early 2024 during the 14th Policy Dialogue Forum.

Among the most concerning new findings in the report is the urgent need for more teachers. Meeting the ambitious goal of providing quality education for all by 2030 requires a staggering 44 million new primary and secondary teachers worldwide.

This shortage has far-reaching consequences, including overburdened teachers, large class sizes, educational inequalities and increased financial strain on educational systems. Attrition rates of primary education teachers have nearly doubled globally between 2015 and 2022, from 4.6% to 9%, with teachers often leaving the profession within their first 5 years.

The issue of teacher shortage is not limited to any specific region, it affects countries at different income levels alike.

Burkina Faso
Teacher Moumouni Badini gives a lesson in Bourzanga, Burkina Faso.  
Credit: UNESCO/Kilayé Bationo

A holistic approach to tackling teacher shortages

The Global Report on Teachers stresses that addressing teacher shortages is a complex challenge requiring a holistic and systemic approach that is inclusive, mindful of gender equality and teachers’ quality of life. To ensure we have an adequate supply of qualified and motivated teachers, we must collect more and better data, and look beyond recruitment. We need to consider teacher motivation, well-being, retention, training, working conditions and social status to have a comprehensive solution for the global teacher shortage.

One critical strategy is the creation of attractive career pathways with equitable access to professional development for teachers. Ensuring teachers have a sense of agency, autonomy and purpose in their profession can go a long way in sustaining motivation throughout their careers. Inclusive policies that promote gender equality in the teaching profession, as highlighted in the report, are vital as a teaching workforce should reflect the diversity of the communities it serves, enhancing the relevance of education and enriching students’ learning experience in turn.

It’s vital to address the underrepresentation of women in specific subjects, upper levels of education and leadership positions, while also encouraging men to enter and remain in teaching.

Furthermore, teacher wellbeing and motivation are closely linked to their working conditions. We can increase the number of quality teachers by fostering a collaborative school culture characterized by mutual support. Involving teachers in the decision-making that impacts on their professional life can lead to them being more satisfied in their role, extending to how they engage in the classroom in a positive way.  

Adequate domestic expenditure on education is crucial to financing education, as are competitive teacher salaries in the broader labor market that enhance teachers’ sense of value within society. Investing in teachers within their first years of joining the profession can be a sustainable strategy to simultaneously curb teacher attrition and address shortages.

Teachers are targets in many places

The effects of these realities on teachers and on the children and adolescents they teach are profound. For example, in Colombia, which witnessed 83 attacks in 2021 (UIS, 2023), teachers report that threats and acts of violence shift the quality of their teaching practices. Some teachers also report that violence alters their sense of trust and the authenticity of their engagement with pupils and their families. Some teachers further reported they avoid teaching certain subjects due to the violence that state-sanctioned histories can incite.

Some teachers who actively engage in peacebuilding efforts to curb the recruitment of their pupils into armed forces have also been targeted by paramilitary groups. In Colombia’s El Salado community, for example, all 25 teachers working at one school received messages from a paramilitary group threatening to extreme violence against the teachers themselves. Incidents like these are not isolated.

In Afghanistan, where the Taliban has re-ascended, there are reports of numerous education leaders being threatened, arrested, or killed for promoting girls’ education. Elsewhere, armed extremists like Boko Haram in Nigeria oppose western-oriented education and have threatened, killed, or abducted teachers to prevent them from teaching national curricula (GCPEA, 2022). Teachers share that their morale is deeply affected by attacks on their colleagues, with the daily insecurity that they experience making it almost impossible to teach.

In Syria, GCPEA describes how resistance forces target and forcibly conscript teachers. In Myanmar, teachers aligned with the resistance National Unity Government (NUG), which is in opposition to the current government, have been targeted. Over 40 teachers were abducted and killed in 2021 alone.

Teacher Chanda Soren during a lesson in Tarapurdanga, West Bengal, India
Credit: UNESCO/Taniya Sardar

Empowering teachers to transform education and the teaching profession

The global teacher shortage is not just about quantity, but also the quality of teachers we prepare and retain for the teaching workforce. The Global Report on Teachers aims to offer evidence-informed solutions to this complex issue to ensure every child can have a qualified and motivated teacher. The report recasts teaching as a collaborative profession, recognizing professional development as a lifelong learning journey, prompts social dialogue to improve teachers' working conditions and status and promotes teacher engagement in decision-making and public debate on education.

Highlights from the Global Report on Teachers were presented at an event during UNESCO’s General Conference, marking an important milestone in collective efforts to overcome the teacher shortage crisis. This event not only celebrated progress, but also underscored the pressing need for international cooperation to expand outreach of teacher policies and to encourage mutual learning. Together, we can build a world where every child has the opportunity to learn and thrive, and where teachers are appreciated as the foundation of a brighter future.

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Title image: Teacher Sreytouch Leng and her students in class in Prey Veng, Cambodia. Credit: UNESCO/Erika Pineros.