The global status of teachers in the era of SDGs

21 December 2018


Barbara Tournier/IIEP-UNESCO

By David Edwards, General Secretary, Education International

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are unprecedented in scope and level of ambition. However, for teachers, are those ambitions matched by requisite investments in tools, time, and trust? The push for Education for All (EFA) and the ensuing massive recruitment contributed to the loss of status among teachers across the world as unqualified and untrained personnel were hired. In the era of the SDGs, are we going to witness an acceleration of this, or is it a wake-up call for more resources to be devoted to this vital profession?

The declining status of the teaching profession has garnered much attention. Now for the first time, a global survey and new report from Education International (EI) takes stock. Entitled The Global Status of Teachers and the Teaching Profession, the report portrays the difficult circumstances teachers face worldwide today, while also presenting a path towards a more sustainable future. Written by Professor Nelly P. Stromquist from the University of Maryland, it is based on the results of a global survey of 114 responses from teacher organisations affiliated to EI, from early childhood through to higher education.

It reveals that in far too many parts of the world teachers are increasingly employed under precarious and shoddy conditions. Part-time contracts, which contribute to low teacher salaries and high job insecurity, are on the rise, and there is a growing lack of respect and support for one of the world’s most essential professions. For example, in Mexico, over half of teachers in middle and secondary schools work on a per-hour basis, resulting in an income that is far from sufficient to live on. The practice of hiring teachers on a temporary basis is also proliferating throughout the world. While such positions have been able to help countries like India expand access to school, these contract teachers have little stability with no pension or benefits.

Overall, too many teachers are receiving insufficient salaries, inconsistent with their level of qualifications and experience. In 79% of the countries surveyed, teacher salaries are less than that of other professions with similar qualifications, and less than 17% of Technical and Vocational Education and Training and Early Childhood Education teachers think they earn fair salaries. In addition, 15% report delays in payments, especially in Latin America, and 79% of teachers in the African region report having to travel long distances to collect their pay.

The report also highlights the urgent need for improvement in professional training - only one in three teachers (30%) report having access to Continuous Professional Learning and Development (CPLD) and 77% see the CPLD they do receive as poor quality and little value. Respondents voiced the need for support particularly when it came to teaching students with special needs, followed by the development of their ICT skills and gender and sexuality training.

Within the school environment, teachers worldwide say they face a shortage of teaching materials, substandard school facilities, and increasingly violent working environments. A lack of access to water, latrines, or other related infrastructure was reported by 64% of unions, creating problems especially for female teachers and students. Violence among students or targeting teachers has also contributed to unsafe conditions in schools, and has been reported by half of unions. Teacher burnout is also becoming a perennial problem, according to the findings. All of these factors exacerbate the burgeoning issue of teacher supply, precisely at a time when the demand across all sectors is rising steadily.

The precarisation of the teacher as a respected professional, in both pay and status, coupled with trends towards limiting teachers’ rights to organise and act collectively, is an underlying attempt to replace the profession of teaching with an isolated, cheap and obedient workforce. Teachers’ unions have a key role to play in stemming the increasing tide of attrition and fatigue, in fighting for decent pay and in inspiring a new generation to embrace the profession, which creates all other professions.

At the same time, governments need to engage unions proactively and in respect of national and international law. However, most are not consulting teachers and their unions when it comes to policy and funding, and on the contrary are imposing mandates, such as high stakes testing, which undermine the creative and innovative force of the profession.

The report ends with clear advice to governments about things they must do if they are going to honour their commitments to quality education and ensure students have the trained, qualified, and empowered teachers they deserve. For example, governments should provide fully funded and continuous professional learning and development. They could share statistics on the minimum qualifications that are required to teach to ensure joint planning between unions and ministries on teacher qualifications.  This relates to the UNESCO goal for qualified teachers for every student, and the joint work EI is doing with UNESCO on professional standards.  Too many countries are looking for unacceptable measures, such as employing untrained teachers. As teacher unions, we are the guardians of the profession. 

Addressing the legal status of teachers is also an imperative as the reduction in permanent employment status and the proliferation of temporary and part-time employment is profoundly contributing to the vulnerability of the profession throughout the world.

The unbridled expansion of private education should also be addressed as it continues to undermine a basic tenet of the right to education: free equitable access for all. Lastly, governments must consider increasing the funding for public education and re-evaluate resource distribution to enable teachers to teach in diverse and complex learning environments, and to fulfil SDG 4 and its multiple targets.

Read the full report: