Education research in the spotlight: COVID-19 recovery and the status of teachers in 2021

published 8 June 2021 updated 18 June 2021

On June 8 and 9, Education International is hosting the annual meeting of its Research Network which brings together education researchers from around the world. The first day of the meeting gave participants the opportunity to share updates on the latest research in the sector and featured a preview of two upcoming reports:

  • Education International’s report on the status of teachers and
  • a report on educational responses during the COVID-19 crisis and times of disruption in the Africa region.

Research critical to COVID-19 recovery in education

The 16th meeting of Education International’s Research Network comes at a critical time for the global education sector. With the COVID-19 pandemic still taking its toll on education systems worldwide, research into the impact of the crisis at all levels of education is critical to inform the recovery process.

The meeting introduced the latest research from Education International. At the global level, topics included teaching with technology, pandemic privatisation in higher education, inclusive education, auditing equity in light of the pandemic, and the Education International – OECD principles for an effective and equitable educational recovery.

At the regional level, research has been conducted on a variety of topics ranging from the provision of education for refugees during the pandemic to tax and education financing, labour rights, and union renewal.

The status of teachers and the teaching profession in 2021

The initial findings of the 2021 edition of Education International’s flagship report on the Status of Teachers were presented during the meeting. Authored by Professor Greg Thompson, the triennial report is based on a survey of Education International member organisations around the world.

According to the initial findings, the status of teachers remains a concern in many jurisdictions. Teachers are aware that holding the same qualifications or levels of training as other professions does not always mean the same status, despite the fact that teaching and facilitating learning is complex and requires expertise.

A significant number of unions report that the status of teachers is constantly undermined by the interaction of the following factors:

  • Pay is too low, conditions are deteriorating, infrastructure to support teaching and learning is not a priority for government investment.
  • There is a lack of respect evident in the ways teachers and teaching are represented by governments and elements of the mass media.
  • Work has intensified, and many unions report concerns for their members’ wellbeing due to the stress of a more complex job compounded by more and more being expected of teachers.
  • Many teachers now face a future of precarious employment as permanent jobs are replaced with casual and short-term contracts.
  • Meaningful continuous professional development that is easy to access and provided free of charge remains a priority for many unions.

The report warns that an increasing number of teachers are planning to leave the profession. At the same time, unions are concerned about attracting a new generation of teachers into a profession that is underpaid and undervalued.

The full report on the status of teachers will be published later this year.

The Research Network took a moment to highlight the attrition crisis in education. Cameras were turned off to illustrate the empty space left behind when a teacher is forced out of the profession.

Africa: Policies on the work of teachers without the input of teachers

Professor Yusuf Sayed presented his report on the response to the pandemic in education systems across eight African countries: Cape Verde, Mali, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Uganda, Mozambique and South Africa. Key findings include:

  • Governments largely did not consult educators and their unions on COVID-19 measures in schools, thus missing out on precious practitioner insights that would have helped mitigate some of the challenges.
  • Unions reported that the continuous professional development provided to teachers during the pandemic was limited and often decontextualised.
  • In all countries analysed, psychosocial support for educators was either not provided or limited and ineffective.

Prof Sayed noted that building system resilience for the pandemic and future crises requires consulting the teaching profession by engaging in meaningful social and policy dialogue, and paying particular attention to teachers’ psychosocial and wellbeing needs.

The second day of the Research Network meeting will focus on education in times of climate and health emergencies, including the UNESCO-Education International global teacher survey on education for sustainable development.