“The right to education means the right to a qualified teacher”. This can seem like a simple enough statement, until one looks closely at what being a “qualified teacher” means.
One of the ways to define a qualified teacher is as a teacher “who has at least the minimum academic qualifications required for teaching their subjects at the relevant level in a given country.”
The above definition is about the type of qualification required for someone to become a teacher. In some countries, the minimum requirement is a Master’s Degree; in other countries, a high school diploma is sufficient. This is one of the indicators behind SDG 4.c.
However, whether a teacher has a high school diploma or a Master’s Degree, neither is sufficient for ensuring good teaching. This is because the most important training for becoming a teacher is pedagogical training.
Another indicator for measuring progress on SDG 4.c calls for trained teachers. A trained teacher is one who “has completed the minimum organized teacher training requirements (whether during pre-service training or in-service).” Most teacher training programmes encompass some form of study in educational theory, teaching methods, child development, assessment, in addition to focused study in languages, maths, sciences, and so on.
But there is a lot of variability in how countries organize pedagogical training. Teacher training programmes can range from 12 months to 4 years. They can include a practical component (e.g., field experience) either concurrently during course work or after all course work is completed. Practical experiences can range from a few weeks to several months. Some student teachers may benefit from supervised practice during their field experiences, while others are only allowed to observe a classroom teacher. Often, these variations exist within the same country.
These variations in how teachers are trained greatly affect teacher quality in the classroom. To support countries to enhance the provision of teacher education, UNESCO and the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 are collaborating with Education International and the ILO to develop an international guiding framework for professional teaching standards.
A common framework will support the key education stakeholders to assure the quality of teacher education through standards of practice that describe the required competencies, knowledge, and skills at different stages of a teacher’s career. A framework of teaching standards can help to safeguard joint regulation of the profession by spelling out the governance and accountability mechanisms for assuring the provision of quality teacher education and quality teaching. The framework is intended to be aspirational in nature. Its purpose is to support teachers, teacher educators, teachers’ organizations and governments to agree on and implement a common understanding of teaching and teacher quality.
So what does it really mean to be a qualified teacher? It means having both an academic qualification and the proper training in pedagogy. It means recognizing teaching as a full profession that requires specialized training. It means having sufficient opportunities to practice teaching under the supervision of a qualified mentor during pre-service training and having access to professional development opportunities that target specific skill needs during in-service employment.
It means urging governments to take teacher education seriously so that it is fully financed for the benefit of students’ learning outcomes.