Why well-trained and effective teachers should be central to education in the Post 2015 development agenda debate

Compare Forum Special Issue on Post-2015 Education and Development Agenda  Compare 43:6 December 2013
Compare Forum Special Issue on Post-2015 Education and Development Agenda
Compare 43:6 December 2013

Purna Kumar Shrestha

Global Advocacy and Research Adviser, Education, VSO International, UK
This is an Author’s Original Manuscript of an article submitted for consideration in Compare [the exclusive right to publish residing with Taylor & Francis, copyright BAICE]. The final version can be found here.


It is encouraging that the UN High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development agenda has recognised education as a priority in its own right as well as a necessity for reaching other goals (UN 2013). The inclusion of pre-primary and vocational education as well as universal access to lower-secondary education signals a clear ambition to go beyond the Millennium Development Goals framework.  Although the report   acknowledges that the quality of education depends on “having a sufficient number of motivated teachers, well trained and possessing strong subject-area knowledge” (UN 2013:37) it has not suggested any indicators and targets for well-trained teachers.  Over 700 stakeholders in VSO focus group discussions in Cambodia, India, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Thailand highlighted the insufficiency of well-trained teachers and lack of good governance and accountability as major issues in current education for all goals (VSO 2013).  Therefore, this article  argues   that  teacher specific targets and  indicators should be included  in the post-2015 education goals  to monitor  the commitment from governments and the international community to  finance  the  recruitment, preparation,  deployment  and retention of well-trained and well-supported teachers to address “the challenge of ensuring sufficient teachers where they are needed, and  the challenge of enhancing and ensuring the quality of teachers”(Mulkeen 2013: 4).

Insufficient of teachers 

One of the gaps in current educational goals is the lack of focus on teachers (GCE, 2013). Globally there is a marked deficit in both teacher numbers and teaching quality, which has an extreme impact on learning outcomes for children. Over 1.7 million more primary school teachers are needed to achieve universal primary education by 2015, on top of replacing the 5.1 million who will leave the profession during this period (UIS 2013). This figure will be much higher if we include the demand for pre-primary and lower-secondary teachers. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa with increasing primary enrolment will need to recruit the equivalent of 63% of their current teaching workforce within the period 2010-2015 (UIS 2013).

Faced with increased pupil enrolment rates and scarce resources, many low income countries have addressed teacher shortages by applying different strategies: employing a new cadre of teachers with lower academic qualifications; providing less pre-service training; and appointing teachers under  less secure temporary contracts (Gardner 2011, Beutel 2011, Daoust 2013).  In The Gambia, for instance, the government has introduced the in-service qualification programme (known as the Primary Teacher College (PTC) extension programme) which combines face-to-face instruction during school holidays with open and distance learning and mentoring during school terms for a period of three years – while the unqualified teacher trainees serve as full-time teachers (Gardner 2011).

Inequitable distribution of well-trained teachers

In many countries, teacher distribution is often uneven.  Qualified and effective teachers prefer to teach in schools in urban areas where they can have a “modern sector” lifestyle (Mulkeen 2013), with electricity, and medical facilities and lack of hardship incentives such as housing and transport facilities ( Sarton et al. 2009,Gardner 2011, Beutel 2011, Daoust 2013).  The impact of this preference is that urban areas have the best qualified teachers, and often have over-staffed schools, while the least desirable areas such as rural and urban slums, have more unqualified, younger, inexperienced and less trained teachers to meet the unique learning needs of students (Moon 2012, Mulkeen 2013). For example in Kwara state of Nigeria, in rural schools the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) is as high as 200 in Patigi. In urban schools, the maximum PTR is 64, with the average PTR as low as13 in Ilorin South (Cram 2013).

In many countries, marginalised children also experience a high degree of teacher absenteeism. As a result, even when children attend school the quality of education they receive can be very poor. This has led to parents in some rural areas pulling their children out of school (Cram 2013).

Learning crisis and teachers’ content knowledge

Early grade reading assessments in several countries have shown pupils’ low level attainment. Many children spend two or three years in school without learning to read a single word (UNESCO 2013).  Therefore, more schooling has not resulted in more knowledge and skills for learners. There is consistent evidence that teachers are the most important school-based factor in determining learning outcomes, second only to what children bring to school (home background) ( Hattie  2008 as cited in Mulkeen 2013:19).  Yet, in many low income countries- where education systems have expanded rapidly – teachers themselves may not have subject knowledge because of poor quality teacher education courses and/or reduced qualification for entering into teacher training.  This lack of qualification or subject knowledge presents teachers with difficulties in understanding and breaking down the curriculum for their students (Brown and Ajmal 2011).  It limits their confidence and consequently their teaching and the learning outcomes for children.

Addressing learning crisis and shortage of well-trained and effective teachers

Improvement in pupils’ learning outcomes is possible when teachers are well-trained and effective in helping pupils learn. This depends to a large extent on how committed and motivated they are. And this in turns is influenced by: how satisfied they are with their conditions of service;  how well prepared they feel as the result of any training and/or professional development that they may have received and  how well supported they feel by their school and district leaderships within the changing education policy context (Beutel 2011). Teachers themselves identify the lack of professional development opportunities as a major concern (Moon 2012). For instance, most of the teachers who participated in VSO’s Valuing Teachers[1] research in  14 countries,  demonstrated considerable interest in improving and updating their qualifications and skills but existing  provisions are not able to meet teachers’ professional development needs .  Therefore, recruiting teachers on the basis of professional competence and ensuring that they are well supported is a key to both providing good quality education and to maintaining a respected teaching profession (ILO 2012).

Governments and donors should act to ensure that marginalised children have consistent access to well-trained teachers. When considering the education goals in the Post-2015 development agenda following indicators must be considered:

  • the qualified teacher- pupil  ratios disaggregated by economic status,  location, gender, ethnic, religious and linguistic background
  • the percentage of  teachers/educators who have received continuing professional development opportunities
  • the percentage of aid from development partners to education sector / national budget allocated to increase the number of well-trained teachers and teachers’ continuing professional development.


Without these indicators, it  is  hard to hold the governments and donors accountable to their commitment to invest on well-trained  and effective teachers, consequently, “the goal to ensure all children regardless of their circumstance, completes primary education able to read, write and count well enough to meet minimum learning standards (UN 2013) will not be achieved.


Cram, Stacey. 2013. Every Child Needs a Teacher. Urban Rural Disparity in Kwara State, Nigeria. Kwara: Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All Nigeria and VSO Nigeria

Beutel, Monika. 2011. Teachers Talking: Primary Teachers Contribution to the Quality of Education in Mozambique. London: VSO.

Brown, Martin, and Yasmin Ajmal. 2011. Leading Learning: A report on effective school leadership. London: VSO.

Daoust, Gabrielle D. 2013. Actions and Interactions: Gender Equality in Teaching and Education Management in Cameroon. London: VSO

Gardner, Courtney M. 2011. Qualifying for Quality: Unqualified Teachers and Qualified Teacher Shortages in the Gambia. London: VSO.

GCE. 2013. Realising the Right to Education for All: Global Campaign for Education Discussion Paper on Education Post-2015. Johannesburg: Global Campaign for Education, 2013.

International Labour Office .2012. Handbook of good human resource practices in the teaching profession. Geneva: ILO

Moon, Bob, ed.2012.Teacher Education and the Challenge of Development. Oxen: Routledge

Mulkeen, Aidan. 2013. Teacher Policy in Primary and Secondary Education in Development Cooperation: Draft Dicussion Paper.  Bonn: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)

Sarton, Emma, Julia Lalla-Maharajh and  Nigel Parsons.2009. How is a good teacher worth ? A Report on the Motivation and Morale of Teachers in Ethiopia. London: VSO.

UNESCO.2013. Education for All  Global Monitoring Report  Policy Paper 07: Addressing the Learning Crisis in Early Grades. Paris: UNESCO

UIS. 2013. Every Child Needs a Teacher. Acessed 15 June 2013. http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Pages/global-action-week-2013.aspx

United Nations (UN). 2013.  A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform economies through Sustainable Development. New York: United Nations

VSO.2013.  Stakeholders’ Voice on Post-2015 Education agenda. London. VSO


[1] Valuing Teachers draws attention to the important role that teachers play in the education reform process. Valuing Teachers research into what motivates teachers, what affects their morale, and what will help them perform well, has been conducted in 14 countries. These reports give voice to teachers’ views about changes in educational policies that affect their work, their professional identity and their motivation. www.vsointernational.org/valuingteachers