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Teachers at the heart of education recovery: What does the latest data tell us about the state of the world’s teachers?

After more than 18 months of variable school closures and remote and hybrid teaching, World Teachers’ Day in 2021 is celebrating teachers and affirming their critical role in maintaining education as a vital service to all children as well as a fundamental human right.

To better inform education stakeholders’ decisions and policy-making, it is essential to understand the state of the world’s teachers through timely measurement and the use of internationally comparable statistics to identify gaps and opportunities. So, the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 has published a World Teachers’ Day 2021 Factsheet as well as a policy brief based on the recent findings of the Trends in International Mathematics and Sciences Study (TIMSS) report* to shed more light on teacher needs, and the need for teachers.

The data in these documents reflect a dire need to reassess the importance of teachers and raise the profile of the profession. In 2016, a projected 69 million additional teachers were needed to ensure universal primary and secondary education by 2030 (SDG target 4.1), and much more must be done to improve teachers’ qualifications, working conditions and status. Moreover, the COVID-19 crisis has not passed, which means pandemic-related needs persist, including teacher vaccination and professional development for the expanded use of remote or hybrid teaching now and in the future. Efforts must be made to ensure that addressing these needs does not take place at the expense of the progress that has been made so far.

To ensure education recovery, more teachers are needed in many countries

Although the total number of primary and secondary teachers worldwide increased by 41% between 2000 and 2020, there are still too few teachers to meet current and expanding needs. This is especially the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where 4.1 million more teachers are currently needed to achieve universal primary and secondary education: almost 1 million in primary and 3.3 million in secondary education. Action to address this shortage is needed urgently, since, as new Teacher Task Force research shows, the gap is projected to increase to 11.2 million teachers by 2025 and 15 million by 2030, based on increasing school-aged populations and replacements needed due to teacher attrition. Needs are greatest in Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, Niger and the United Republic of Tanzania, where more than 5% annual growth in the number of teachers is needed just to meet the targets of full primary and secondary enrolment by 2030.

Teacher attrition (teachers choosing to leave the profession) remains a significant contributing factor to the teacher gap in many countries. Teachers abandon their profession for a complex variety of reasons, including low social recognition of their work, lack of opportunities for professional development, insufficient promotion prospects and difficult working conditions. Over a five-year period, primary-level teacher attrition was as high as 22% in Guinea, 17% in Sierra Leone, 16% in Mauritania and 13% in Benin.

While COVID-19’s effects on teacher attrition are not yet clear, in many contexts the pandemic has led to calls for additional teachers to be recruited to ease school reopening, putting further strain on limited financial and other resources. In 2021, however, a global survey by UNESCO/UNICEF/World Bank/OECD on National Education Responses to COVID-19 School Closures revealed that just 31% of 103 countries recruited additional teachers for school reopening, ranging from about half of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to just one-quarter in sub-Saharan Africa, of which most were southern African countries.

More needs to be done to improve teachers’ qualifications 

International comparisons of teacher qualifications are difficult, since teacher training standards and programmes differ widely and have varying entry prerequisites, duration and content. More and better indicators to measure and monitor the multiple dimensions of teacher qualifications need to be developed in order to understand the quality of teachers, their capacity to perform in the classroom and their needs for additional training and continuing professional development (CPD).

Globally, 83% of teachers at both primary and secondary level hold the minimum required qualifications to teach, but the situation differs by region: 97% of teachers at both levels are qualified in Central Asia, compared to 67% of primary and 61% of secondary teachers in sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, regional figures hide wide variations between countries. In Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti and Mauritius, 100% of teachers hold the minimum required qualifications, compared to just 62% in Niger, 52% in Gabon, 27% in Sao Tome and Principe and 15% in Madagascar.

The TTF policy brief, based on TIMSS data, shows that teacher qualifications play an important role in learning outcomes. A multi-country analysis suggests that teachers who have a bachelor’s degree that included pedagogy, have participated in CPD and have at least 10 years’ experience are correlated with stronger learning achievement in many countries.

A bachelor’s degree was the most common qualification among teachers in the 64 high- and middle-income countries participating in TIMSS. Typically, teachers from higher-income countries have higher qualifications: 90% of grade 4 students in mathematics had a teacher with a post-graduate degree in Czechia, Germany, Finland, Poland and Slovakia. On the other hand, in some middle-income countries, including Armenia, Morocco and Pakistan, more than one-third of students had teachers who had only completed upper secondary education.

Teachers need support in addressing pandemic-related needs

Governments have struggled to support teachers in transitioning to remote and hybrid teaching models during school closures. Not only do teachers need training in how to use technologies, they also need specific support for distance learning pedagogies as well as emotional and psychosocial support. The joint UNESCO/UNICEF/World Bank/OECD survey shows that the most common support provided to teachers was instruction on distance education. Globally, 71% of countries provided instructions, ranging from 100% in Eastern and South-eastern Asia to 45% in Central and Southern Asia and 40% in sub-Saharan Africa. In comparison, teachers in just 42% of all countries were provided with ICT tools and internet access, ranging from 67% in Europe and Northern America and 56% in Latin America and the Caribbean to 22% in Eastern and South-eastern Asia and only 6% in sub-Saharan Africa.

The pandemic has precipitated a growing trend in distance education and technology integration in teaching, but according to the TIMSS report, CPD to support online education was inadequate in many countries before the crisis. Across countries, just 35% of grade 4 students had mathematics teachers who had been trained in technology integration.

Finally, for teachers to fully contribute to education recovery, their health and well-being must be strengthened and sustained. This includes prioritizing teachers during vaccination efforts. Currently, 71% of countries have included teachers in a priority group for vaccination (See Teacher prioritization map in COVID-19 vaccine rollout plans). Vaccination efforts are at different stages worldwide, but some countries which did not prioritize teachers have very low rates of fully vaccinated teachers – for example, 12% in Venezuela and 9% in Algeria. Teachers’ mental and emotional health must also be sustained, but just 6 in 10 countries globally and 3 in 10 in sub-Saharan Africa offered psychosocial support to help teachers deal with the COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic has generated additional strain for teachers who, in many cases, already faced high workloads with inadequate support. To weather the crisis, and to meet the SDG 4 promise, more must urgently be done to give them the resources they need. 

Visual credit: © UNESCO with icons from

*The Trends in International Mathematics and Sciences Study (TIMSS) report is an international assessment of student achievement in mathematics and sciences, which contributes to understanding teacher quality and its role in student achievement through a set of indicators that contextualize teacher qualifications within students’ school environments. The new TTF policy brief is based on the latest TIMSS 2019 report, which covered 64 countries.