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Transforming the teaching career to better address global teacher shortages

This blog was authored by David Childress, a senior consultant to the first Global Report on Teachers, launched during the 14th Policy Dialogue Forum, on 26 February 2024.

Teachers are at the heart of providing a quality education for all students. And yet, systems around the world continue to face shortages and struggle to attract and retain enough teachers. New projections show that 44 million additional teachers are needed globally to reach the goal of attaining universal primary and secondary education by 2030. Encouragingly, this number marks a significant decrease from the 69 million teachers projected by UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics in 2016. However, the ongoing gap remains about half the size of the existing teaching workforce. Some regions also continue to face large shortages, with sub-Saharan Africa requiring 15 million additional teachers by 2030 – or about one out of three of all teachers needed globally.

To help address the worldwide challenge of shortages, the Global Report on Teachers aims to support the international community in making progress towards SDG 4’s aim of providing inclusive and equitable quality education for all. Initially, the report presents new projections and in-depth analysis to clearly place context around global teacher shortages. Based on this analysis, the report then offers policy solutions and implementation strategies to reverse these trends.

Overall, the Global Report on Teachers aligns with the High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession’s recommendations and six imperatives for the future of teaching: Humanity, Sustainability, Dignity, Teacher Quality, Innovation and leadership, and Equity. It also joins calls from the International Commission on the Future of Education and the 2022 Transforming Education Summit to valorise and diversify teaching, turning it into a more collaborative and innovative profession.

Putting teacher shortages into global context

Global teacher shortages stem from a combination of teacher attrition and the need to fill newly created teaching posts. Teacher attrition, or the number of personnel leaving the profession in a single year, accounts for 58 per cent of the projected teachers needed by 2030. Recent estimates have also shown that teacher attrition rates are on the rise, with global averages among primary teachers nearly doubling from 2015 to 2022, jumping from 4.62 to 9.06 per cent.

On the other hand, regions with rapidly growing populations have the highest rates of projected shortages due to newly created teaching positions (see Table 1). Systems with growing school age populations must then work to both retain the teachers they have while also increasing recruitment to meet growing need. This is especially vital for secondary schools, as 31 million teachers– or about 7 in 10– are needed at this level by 2030.

Table 1. Total teacher recruitment needs by region for 2030, by level (in thousands)

Source: UIS, 2024; UNESCO and Teacher Task Force, 2023
Note: m = missing data; Teacher numbers reflect 2022, except for South-Eastern Asia which reflect 2021, and Oceania, which reflect 2017.

SDG 4 remains an aspirational goal, but countries have also set national benchmarks to define their own targets based on context, starting point and pace of progress. These benchmarks project teacher need based on the estimated 84 million children (or about 5 per cent) that will remain out of school in 2030. Projections based off national benchmarks reduce the number of teachers needed globally by about 5 per cent at the primary level (12.3 million vs. nearly 13 million) and about 12 per cent at the secondary level (27.5 million vs. 31.1 million). While still ambitious, these benchmarks may offer some countries more achievable goals.

The multiple challenges associated with teacher shortages

The causes of teacher shortages are complex, due to a combination of factors such as motivation, recruitment, training, working conditions and even social status. Unattractive salaries and difficult working conditions can make teaching unappealing to both future and current teachers, leading to shortages in countries across all income levels. For example, results from TALIS 2018 showed that in participating countries, only 67 per cent of teachers reported that teaching was their primary career choice.

Teacher shortages can have wide-ranging consequences. High rates of attrition can directly impact students, as research has found that experience improves teacher performance relating to student test scores, absences and classroom behaviour. Schools experiencing high levels of shortages also face ongoing disruption and added demands throughout the year as they seek to recruit and train new colleagues. Vicious cycles can emerge in systems with lots of departures where systems struggle to keep up with constantly training and deploying new teachers.

Strategies to transform teaching and reduce shortages

Effective policies to address teacher shortages should form parts of a holistic strategy to improve the status and attractiveness of the profession. Initially, systems need to pay teachers an adequate salary. Globally, half of all countries pay primary teachers less than professions requiring similar qualifications while this reduces to 3 in 10 countries in Europe and North America. Systems should also strive to improve working conditions through policies that regulate working hours or involve teachers in more decision-making processes.

To continue to raise the prestige of teaching, systems need to find and recruit the right candidates that are drawn to teaching as a vocation or a calling. Workforces should also reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. Developing gender equality is especially important, as women are often underrepresented in leadership roles while fewer men tend to work at lower levels of education.

Professionalizing a career in teaching can further raise its prestige and improve teacher motivation. This process may start by ensuring proper qualification frameworks and opportunities for all teachers, especially those working on temporary contracts. For example, efforts in Mexico and Indonesia have integrated large numbers of contract teachers into civil service positions. By providing attractive career pathways and access to quality professional development, systems can also better motivate teachers throughout their professional life.

Developing a new social contract for education could serve as the lynchpin to further raise the prestige of teaching moving forward. This process involves creating opportunities for collaboration, incorporating social dialogue, and promoting teacher innovation. These strategies allow teachers a larger voice in their profession, while also creating more communities of practice across local, national or even international levels.

Financing the teaching profession and fostering international cooperation

Adequately funding education is vital to combat teacher shortages, as the largest share of education budgets typically goes towards teacher salaries. Spending on teachers can reach up to 75 per cent of budgets in low-income countries. The Education 2030 Framework for Action established financing targets for governments of 4 to 6 per cent of GDP and 15 to 20 per cent of public expenditure allocated to education. Global averages for education spending were 4.2 per cent of GDP in 2021. However, there remain significant gaps in funding between country income groups, ranging from 5.0 in high-income countries in 2021 (latest year with data available) to 3.1 per cent in low-income countries in 2022.

International cooperation can play a key role in combatting spending disparities and work towards reducing global teacher shortages more generally. International aid partners can support teacher policies in collaboration with governments by providing financing, training or advocacy. Cooperation is also occurring more frequently through South-South or triangular cooperation, where Global South countries can pool and share resources to build capacities and develop self-reliance.

Based on its analyses and new findings, the Report proposes key six recommendations to address global teacher shortages and transform the profession, ensure sufficient teachers for universal education goals, accelerate SDG4 and target 4.c achievement, and advance the Education 2030 Agenda.


  • Read the Global Report on Teachers: Addressing teacher shortages and transforming the profession
  • Visit the event page of the 14th Policy Dialogue Forum

Report front cover credits:

© UNESCO/Ilan Godfrey; © UNESCO/Santiago Serrano; © UNESCO/Erika Piñeros; © UNESCO/Nadège Mazars; © UNESCO/Rehab Eldalil; © UNESCO/Anatolii Stepanov