From North America to Africa to Europe, massive teacher shortages are threatening to derail progress on global development goals. The causes vary and sometimes overlap, but the price will be paid in the future.
PARIS — The world is short on teachers. Across the planet, the impact of ongoing conflicts and the continued ripples from the pandemic have prompted worry around the future of education. According to a UNESCO report, last year 9% of primary school teachers left the profession, double the rate in 2015. The report blames low pay, poor working conditions, and the high-stress nature of the job for this exodus.
A few regions, such as southern Asia, have managed to stem the shortage. But in vast swathes of the world, poor and rich nations alike, the crisis has reached a menacing scale, posing questions about the future of education, triggering demands for better pay, working conditions, and resources for educators, and provoking continued concerns from human rights organizations.
Domino effect in Jamaica from U.S. lack of teachers
In the United States, teacher shortages have led to doubled class sizes, the burgeoning of online courses, and, in some cases, lowered standards when it comes to hiring. One analysis found that the majority of U.S. states are experiencing a shortage of teachers, with turnover rates increasing sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 45% of public schools reported being understaffed, and “hiring elementary and special education teachers remains a challenge”. Aside from more people deciding to leave teaching, fewer people are entering teaching schools in the first place, meaning that the decline is expected to continue.
The education ministry gave schools approval to hire part-time teachers, pre-trained graduates, and retirees.
The chronic teacher shortage in the U.S. has affected the Caribbean nation of Jamaica, with teachers leaving that country lured by the growing demand abroad. Last year, 1,500 Jamaican teachers left for foreign shores, and in total, the country has lost 10% of its teachers in the past two years alone. According to the Jamaica Times, one group of schools in North Carolina now employs 32 Jamaican teachers.
This drain has has put serious pressures on Jamaica's own school system. Before the beginning of this school year, Jamaica’s education ministry gave schools approval to hire part-time teachers, pre-trained graduates, and retired professionals, according to Caribbean National Weekly.
In Burkina Faso, violence is closing schools
Over in the western African state of Burkina Faso, schools have been attacked or occupied as part of the ongoing conflict in the country. About 6,300 of them are currently teaching internally displaced students. Said UNICEF's representative in Burkina Faso, Sandra Lattouf: “We are witnessing an accelerating assault on education. Teachers are threatened and parents are frightened.” Last December, four teachers in Burkina Faso were killed in a targeted terror attack, according to theNorth Africa Post.
Burkina Faso’s ministry of education, together with UNICEF, has been trying to promote distance learning via radio. "Radio education allows children to continue their educational routine, to acquire the necessary foundations in reading, writing, arithmetic, with the hope that, as soon as possible, they will be able to reintegrate a form of education”, Emilie Royé, the UNICEF Head of Education in Burkina Faso, toldRadio France Internationale.
The shortage of teachers has also hit other African countries such as Chad and Niger. According to Borhene Chakroun, Director of Policies and Systems of Education UNESCO, in Sub-Sarahan Africa, there is one qualified teacher per 56 primary school students, and one per every 55 high school students.
At a school in Burkina Faso
Poland struggles to fill administrative roles
Europe's wealthy countries, including France, Germany, Portugal, Italy, and Sweden, are also grappling with the teacher crisis. Part of the reason for this, according to Régis Malet, professor of education at the University of Bordeaux, is the gradual erosion in the social status of teachers. The profession went from “a job with high added social value, prestige, to a form of uncertainty in the mission, loss of meaning and ultimately dissonance between the school and life,” he told Euronews.
Europe’s aging population has also caused concern about the future supply of teachers, and in Germany, France, and Sweden, mass retirements are a major contributor to the current shortages. OECD statistics reveal that 60% of teachers in Italy are over 50. The figure is 42% in Portugal, 37% in Germany, 36% in Sweden, and 23% in France.
Without structural reforms, talented professionals will continue to shun the field.
In Poland, the crunch has also impacted administrative roles. Schools have struggled to appoint principals, with candidates citing the untenable mismatch between pay and job responsibilities as a prime deterrent. “We know everything: we are experts not only in education law, but also in construction law, the Penal Code for Minors, and special funds”, one principal told Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.
Without structural reforms, talented professionals will continue to shun the field. “It's a huge responsibility. Teachers must respond to the needs of their classroom and those of parents”, Marek Pleśniar, the director of the office of the National Association of Educational Management Staff told Wyborcza. “The principal must respond to the needs of the entire school. Manage all emergencies. And there are more and more of them”.