Teacher supply gaps and the looming quality crisis in developing countries

It is widely recognized that while the number and recruitment of teachers has grown significantly since 1970, recruitment rates have stalled and moreover have not kept pace with expanding enrolments.[1]  This has led to a worldwide shortage of teachers that is particularly acute in developing countries.  Recent estimates posit that 1.9 million additional teachers are required to realize universal primary education, more than half of them in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).[2]  As such, many countries in SSA must augment teacher recruitment growth rates by more than six percent annually and the teaching workforce in South and West Asia must increase by more than 11 percent if EFA is to be met by 2015.[3] 


This international teacher supply gap is substantially exacerbated when the inherent personnel requirements of expanding post-primary phases and the proportion of unqualified educators are taken into account.  To this end, the global adjusted net secondary enrolment ratio was 68 percent in 2009 while pupil-teacher ratios (PTRs) remained relatively constant.[4]   Assuming a constant PTR, this indicates that approximately 50 percent more secondary educators (i.e. 15 million) would theoretically be needed to supply universal secondary education.  Further, the proportion of the teaching workforce that meets national norms of minimum teacher qualification can be alarmingly low in some country contexts, as shown in the figure below.   Of 65 countries with available data in 2010, less than half of teachers meet national norms of adequate training in 21 (32.3 percent).   While in some cases this is likely due in part to evolving national norms of teacher preparation (e.g. Benin and Ethiopia), it is nonetheless indicative of shortages in ‘quality’ teachers and suggests that much of pre-service training in developing countries is ineffective.[5]


In addition, there is growing concern over the practice of hiring contract and temporary teachers (who tend to have less training and lower qualifications) to fill this supply gap and the obvious implications this has for the overall quality and professionalism of the teaching workforce. 


The confluence of these issues points to a looming (or in some cases extent) teacher quality supply crisis. Much has been made of the ‘learning’ crisis in primary education (i.e. many children are attending school but learning or retaining little) of late, and this phenomenon is certainly related to teacher competence.  Indeed, contexts in which less than half of classrooms are staffed with adequately trained teachers certainly constitute a crisis for learning outcomes.


Unfortunately the most obvious policy solution to bridging these supply gaps (increasing the personnel and total education expenditure) lies largely out of fiscal reach for most low-income countries (LICs), given contemporary spending patterns.[6]  Rather, pathways to teacher qualification and skills upgrading will have to be characterized by both innovation and creativity, traits that are, sadly, all too uncommon for teacher training institutions in many LICs.


For the figure above:

Source: Author’s calculations based on UIS database

Note: ? = pre-primary; ? = primary; ? = secondary. Baseline values taken from 2007 or closest available year. 


[1] ILO. 2009. Impact of the global economic recession on education (SECTOR Notes). Geneva: ILO.

ILO. 2011. Update of sectoral aspects in the context of economic recovery: Education and research (Fourth Item on the Agenda No. GB.310/STM/4). GB 310th Session. Geneva: ILO

[2] UNESCO. 2011. Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2011: The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education. Paris: UNESCO

[3] UNESCO-UIS. 2011. Financing education in Sub-Saharan Africa: Meeting the challenges of expansion, equity and quality. Montreal: UNESCO-UIS.

[4] UNESCO-UIS. 2011. Global Education Digest 2011: Comparing education statistics around the world. Montreal: UNESCO-UIS.

[5] UNESCO. 2005. Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2005: The quality imperative. Paris: UNESCO.

[6] K. Kyrili and M. Martin. 2010. The impact of the global economic crisis on the budget of low-income countries (Research Report). London: Oxfam. 


Lee Nordstrum

Lee Nordstrum in an independent education research consultant specializing in education finance, demand for schooling and teacher issues in developing countries.  He has most recently conducted research and consulted for the Global Partnership for Education, UNESCO EFA Global Monitoring Report, the International Labour Organization and the Government of Togo.  Commissioned papers include: private household spending on public primary schooling in low-income countries (2012 EFA GMR); the impact of the economic crisis on education finance (ILO); teacher quantity and quality supply gaps in developing countries; cost constraints to expanding and upgrading the teacher workforce; and teacher training systems (ILO).  Prior to this, his doctoral research at the University of Cambridge focused on the impact that school user fees and their abolition in poor schools have on education demand in South Africa.  Lee is based in California, USA with his wife and two children.

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