Education International
Education International

Opinion: The Right to a Good Teacher

published 9 January 2015 updated 21 January 2015

Education International’s Antonia Wulff explains why a teacher target is a necessary and perfectly feasible feature of the post-2015 education agenda in the latest Network for international policies and cooperation in education and training newsletter.

“Don’t worry; you know it is thanks to teachers that all of us got here”, the government advisor said. It was the last session of negotiations of the UN Open Working Group and our efforts to strengthen the teacher target did not seem to pay off.

There is overwhelming consensus on teachers as a cornerstone of quality education; yet the current education agenda did not pay any attention to teachers, neither did the UN process. While references were made to the importance of qualified teachers throughout the Open Working Group process, it was only once the Means of Implementation targets were introduced that a (rather weak) target on teacher training emerged.

While it is understandable that the education targets were considered one too many already, we know that more than 27 million teachers will be needed to achieve universal primary education by 2030. And this is only at primary school level. There are countries where less than 50 percent of the teachers are trained, and others where the training itself is limited to 2-3 weeks. The chronic shortage of teachers is by no means an issue for so-called developing countries only; about half of the U.S. teachers leave the profession within the first few years. We also know that it is the most marginalised students who tend to lose out on having a good teacher.

Teachers are at the centre of the inputs versus outcomes debate within the broader post-2015 process. But an outcome-focused agenda is also one that sets up both countries and kids to fail; we can continue to measure the failures in terms of learning outcomes but that in itself is no guarantee for improvement. We need to look at the factors that make education possible. Paradoxically, the same people that talk about skills for work seem to think that teachers don’t need any training to teach.

The Muscat Agreement, on the contrary, proposes a robust teacher target: By 2030, all governments ensure that all learners are taught by qualified, professionally-trained, motivated and well-supported teachers. Education International fought hard for a target that goes beyond the obvious characteristics of training and qualifications to also include working conditions and support structures.

We understand qualified as encompassing the minimum level of formal education background needed to enter the profession, while trained refers to the minimum level of pre- and in-service preparation. Obvious indicators here are the percentages of teachers that are qualified according to national standards and the pupil-teacher ratio. In this way emphasis is on national standards and, thus, the development of strong national education systems. The gender and distribution of these teachers must also be taken into account.

Motivated and well-supported are of course concepts that leave room for interpretation, but our understanding is that the former should focus on working conditions, while the latter looks at professional support. The best data on teachers’ motivation and support would probably be gathered through surveys, consultations and other forms of self-reporting, but there are other options too.

While salary is an obvious indicator it has to include other forms of financial and non-financial benefits, and be placed in a context to be relevant. It would be important to look at indicators like average teacher salary relative to poverty levels, or percentage of teachers that are paid below average pay or live below the poverty line. The ILO has a number of decent work indicators that would help shed light on working conditions, such as job tenure, precarious employment rate, working poor rate, and collective bargaining rate.

At the same time, motivation should also be understood to include issues such as pedagogical autonomy and planning time, classroom resources and learning environments, and more work will have to be done on possible indicators for that. Another important element to capture is the involvement and participation of teachers in the development of education policy.

The principal indicator for well-supported teachers would be the incidence of regular continuous professional development or percentage of teachers who received job training. In addition, it would be important to find ways of highlighting whether the professional development is offered for free, and whether there are any career development prospects. Teacher turnover would also be an interesting proxy for support.

Regardless of what happens over the next year, it seems to me that quality and equity will be the overarching priorities of the new global education agenda. Even if, in the worst case scenario, the new agenda frames teachers only as a means of implementation, some of the indicators outlined above will have to be used to operationalise quality in the other education targets. By 2030, all learners must be taught by qualified, professionally-trained, motivated and well-supported teachers.


UIS-GMR (2014) Policy Paper 15, Wanted: Trained

Teachers to Ensure Every Child’s Right to Primary

Education, October 2014

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Abdelhak Senna