Education International
Education International

Effective teacher policies

published 19 January 2016 updated 19 January 2016
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First, all education policy must be based on a clear, foundational principle -- education is a fundamental human right that must be promoted, because of its intrinsic value.

At the same time, education is essential for unlocking and achieving other human rights -- the rights to health, freedom, security, economic well-being and effective participation in social and political activities. The multiplying power of education stands for all countries, regardless of their level of development. By allowing individuals to fulfil their potential, education is a motor that drives positive economic, political and social transformation.

The principle of the right to education has evolved over recent years. In the past, it was mostly concerned with granting access to education – this remains a core issue in some countries, especially for young girls and women. Today, the focus is shifting from access to learning and quality.

The stakes are high. UNESCO’s 2014 Education for All Global Monitoring Report on Teaching and learning: Achieving quality for all, shows that 250 million children are not learning, whether they are in school or not. We estimate thecost of this learning crisis at $129 billion. Some 37 countries are wasting at least half of the amount they spend on primary education simply because children are not learning.

This is why quality learning must be the second principle to guide education policies. Access is not enough – relevant learning must actually take place.

In recent years, there have been increasing efforts by Governments to measure learning outcomes, backed by UNESCO’s comprehensive perspective. Learning should not be measured only as a function of future earnings through skills development but -- more importantly -- as a means to promote personal and social development. Certainly, good teachers know the difference between instrumental skills development and a truly comprehensive education.

This leads to a third principle to guide education policies – to provide effective support to teachers and their professional development.

The new UNESCO Global Monitoring Report shows that 29 countries are not expected to have enough teachers to achieve universal primary education until after 2030. It is vital that this gap be filled with candidates from a wide range of backgrounds, including at least a lower secondary education, so that children in school receive the learning they need.

For UNESCO, these principles must stand at the heart of national education policies and the new global sustainable development agenda that follows 2015.

Education policies must be flexible to respond to new challenges – from globalization, environmental degradation, economic and financial difficulties, to the rise of extremism. This requires a global education framework whose scope goes beyond economic growth and poverty reduction to include social and political concerns, like responding to climate change, promoting democratic governance and ensuring human security. At the same time, the new agenda must allow for target-setting at the regional and national levels in order to address a diversity of social, economic and cultural contexts.

All of this means we need change for teachers. We need new approaches to the selection, training, recruitment and continuous professional development of teachers. Teachers already in place and new candidates should be given the right training to address the learning needs of the most disadvantaged learners – including, those living in poverty, girls, as well as learners in rural areas. Newly qualified teachers should be able to call on teacher educators and mentors, who can provide ongoing support in translating teaching knowledge into activities that improve learning.

Recruiting the best teachers and giving them the best training will mean little if they do not teach where they are most needed. Too often, poor and remote areas fail to attract the best teachers because of inadequate infrastructure and harsh working conditions. We need a range of new incentives to tackle this problem – including adequate compensation, bonus pay, good housing and support in the form of professional development opportunities.

In areas with acute teacher shortages, teachers should be recruited locally while being provided access to ongoing training. In the Republic of Korea, we see the success of such policies for strong and equitable learning outcomes thanks to stipends and promotion opportunities, which mean that disadvantaged groups have better access to qualified and experienced teachers.

Improving the status of teachers and their working conditions should be at the heart of national education policies. To recruit the best teachers and retain them, career opportunities and pay structures should be similar to those offered to professionals in comparable fields. This means also recognizing and rewarding teachers working in remote areas and with the disadvantaged, in order to narrow gaps in learning between rich and poor, boys and girls and those living in different regions.

UNESCO takes this agenda forward at several levels, starting with normative standard-setting.

UNESCO has crafted two normative instruments -- the 1966 UNESCO/ILO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers, the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel– backed also by the recommendations of the 2014 UNESCO Global Monitoring Report. These instruments set out the rights and responsibilities of teachers as well as international standards for their preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, teaching and learning conditions. They provide valuable guidelines to support Governments, policy-makers and teachers in working for quality education for all.

UNESCO also builds capacity where it is needed most, for evidence-based policy formulation and strategic planning.

Our Capacity Development for Education for All(CapEFA) programme is a flagship. Targeting countries most at risk of not achieving the EFA goals by 2015, the programme is supporting 10 priority countries along with a sub-regional programme in the Pacific (including 5 countries), to strengthen institutional, organizational and human capacities to implement national teacher education and professional development policies. The programme focuses on improving the quality of pre-service and in-service teacher training, the development and implementation of coherent teacher policies and support to the planning, management and administration of teacher training institutions. CapEFA is financed by pooled funds from the Governments of Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland – with contributions from Belgium and Italy in previous years.

UNESCO is also developing also guidelines to reinforce the capacity of teacher training institutions. These include, for instance, the UNESCO Guide for Mainstreaming Gender in Teacher Education Institutions and the UNESCO Guide for Effective Teaching and Learning of Education for Sustainable Development in Teacher Education Institutions.

With support from the People’s Republic of China, UNESCO has launched a major project on “Enhancing Teacher Education for Bridging the Education Quality Gap in Africa.” With a focus on harnessing information and communication technologies, work is underway in eight countries (Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Liberia, Namibia Tanzania and Uganda).

In addition, UNESCO and Education International have joined hands, with support from the Global Partnership for Education, to develop the capacities of teachers’ and teachers’ organizations for their effective participation in social dialogue and education policy formulation. Our action will target ten countries in different regions.

This builds on strong collaboration with Education International during the celebration of the 2013 World Teachers’ Day at UNESCO in Paris – when we launched the year-long campaign, “Unite for Quality Education,” with a simultaneous webcast at UNICEF in New York and participation from the Global Partnership for Education, the Global Education First Initiative, the United Nations Special Envoy for the Right to Education and the UN Special Envoy for Global Education. In this framework, partners have set the goal of mobilizing 30 million teachers and education professionals to unite with parents and students.

Much has been achieved by countries across the world to reach the Millennium Development Goals and the Education for All objectives, but we are still not on track. In the final push to 2015 and as we set a new global sustainable development agenda to follow, we must be bold in reviewing both achievements and shortfalls. Working with major partners like Education International, UNESCO will continue to advance sharper education policy across the world, building on three guiding principles -- the right to education, quality learning and effective support to teachers. These are pillars on which to harness the full power of education as a transformational force for dignity and sustainability.empty