On World Teachers’ Day, education unions are raising the alarm as new research shows that teachers around the world are overworked, underpaid, and undervalued.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on the education sector. With school closures around the world, there has been an increased public appreciation of teachers and the work they do. However, this awareness has not led to structural improvements such as investment, support, and better working conditions for professional educators. In fact, education budgets have fallen in 65 per cent of low- and middle-income countries, and in 33 per cent of upper-middle- and high-income countries.
The 2021 Education International report on the Global Status of Teachers and the Teaching Profession, which surveyed 128 education union leaders and officials in 94 countries and across all levels of education, points to system wide conditions which are failing to attract a new generation of educators to the profession. The continued teacher shortage undermines the right of every learner to be taught by a qualified teacher.
“Recent policy moves tend to shift responsibility, and blame, onto teachers for issues that systems should be providing support for. An intelligent professional agenda requires a collective, joint negotiated plan with the profession. This should be seen as a foundational move towards intelligent professionalism. The joint development of the Global Framework of Professional Teaching Standards by Education International and UNESCO is exemplary in this regard.”
The report, authored by Professor Greg Thompson, Queensland University of Technology in Australia, outlines the factors affecting the status of education workers worldwide, such as pay and working conditions, as well as professional autonomy and the portrayal of teachers in the media. Some of the main findings include:
- Teacher pay is too low, conditions are deteriorating, and infrastructure to support teaching and learning is not a priority for government investment. Over 42 per cent of respondents stated that there had been a deterioration in teachers’ working conditions over the last three years. 84 per cent indicated that salaries had decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Workload has intensified. Over 55 per cent of respondents stated that workloads were unmanageable. Over 66 per cent of respondents felt that “administrivia” requirements were contributing to the excessive workload pressures for education professionals.
- Teacher attrition was reported as an issue at all academic levels, with primary education (33.1 per cent) the highest and higher education (17.3 per cent) the lowest. 48 per cent of respondents think the teaching profession is not an attractive profession for young people.
- Precarious employment is growing. Almost 60 per cent of respondents pointed to the use of casual and short-term contracts to employ teachers and academics. In some settings, including sub-Saharan Africa and South-West Asia, many contract teachers described receiving less pay than permanent teachers, inadequate professional support, and poor working conditions.
- Continuous Professional Development remains insufficient for teachers. Many perceived it to be of poor quality, not directly relevant to the issues that teachers were facing, and came at personal financial cost without clear career benefits (see tables 106-112).
The respondents were also asked their recommendations to improve the status of the profession and stated that a focus on pay, conditions, and particularly workload would be valuable elements. Positive policies and practices include hiring adequate numbers of teachers, trainers, and education support personnel and ensuring that education systems be well-resourced to ensure high-quality education.
To access the full report on the Global Status of Teachers and the Teaching Profession, by Thompson, G. (2021) and its executive summary, please click here.