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Africa will fail to meet the SDGs without more educators

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Picture: – A teacher at a school in Kampala, Uganda shows a learner how to write.

By Edwin Naidu

Earlier this month, the UN gathered to talk about education transformation, but they seemingly glossed over the growing teacher shortage, which means that all those lofty goals by 2030 are doomed to fail.

Yet, in just more than a week, we will hear leaders from all walks of life pay tribute on World Teachers’ Day on 5 October to how the men and women in classrooms helped shape their futures. But according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) estimate, the number of educators required fourth on the list of Sustainable Development Goals to achieve inclusive and equitable quality education and to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all is a mere pipedream.

With less than eight years remaining, the race to blood new teachers falls considerably short if the UNESCO data is spot on. The statistics show that the most significant teacher shortages are in sub-Saharan Africa. The continent needs at least 17 million teachers to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030.

It forecasts that almost 6.3 million primary teachers are required: 2.4 million to fill new teaching posts to meet the needs of all children and 3.9 million to replace the teachers who will leave the profession. At the secondary level, Africa must hire almost 11 million teachers by 2030, including 7.1 million for new teaching positions and 3.7 million to replace those who have left.

Picture: Supplied – Head Start Education, founded by Shivad Singh serves as a gateway to Africa for educators to promote the advancement of education in our country and beyond.

In March, it was reported that South Africa’s teacher shortage would worsen after home affairs cancelled Zimbabwe’s exemption permits, jeopardising the jobs of some 200 000 teachers from across the border. Several countries, including Zambia, have expressed concern about declining teacher numbers.

In his closing address at the education summit in New York last week, Secretary-General António Guterres glossed over the problem under the transformation imperative but correctly noted that teachers are the backbone of all sound education systems. To fulfil their essential roles in the future education systems, he said fundamental change is needed in how both societies view and value teachers and how teachers approach their roles and fulfil their responsibility.

Reports of mounting disrespect for teachers by pupils and the poor conditions governments treat them on the continent are rising.

Yet, according to Guterres, teachers must become knowledge producers, facilitators, and guides in comprehending complex realities. They must be trained and empowered to transcend from passive to active, vertical, and unidirectional to collaborative. They must promote learning based on experience, enquiry, and curiosity; develop the capacity, joy, and discipline for problem-solving.

The Secretary-General warned that the global teacher shortage must be tackled head-on by making the teaching profession more attractive for younger generations. This calls for decent working conditions and enhanced status of teachers, including wages comparable with occupations requiring similar qualifications and continuous professional development.

Recruitment and promotion mechanisms for teachers must also become more equitable, fair, and non-discriminatory, ensuring opportunity for women and people from vulnerable and marginalised groups.

Of course, a key challenge the world over is money. Investment in education is crucial, and on this score, Guterres threw down the gauntlet to the men and women who control the purse strings of governments worldwide, including in Africa.

He said a fundamental shift in how education is seen and treated by Ministries of Finance and governments is required. Education spending is not considered a consumption expenditure but a crucial national investment.

But the challenge for more practical solutions on how teaching as a profession is enhanced to contribute to societies remains.

Instead, we have far loftier ambitions, such as meeting the needs of the 21st century and the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, when poverty, inequalities, racism, discrimination, sexism, xenophobia, and ethnicity are just a few of the many challenges facing the continent.

Nobody said how the United Nations would work with governments to enable teachers to transform themselves and become change agents. Instead, Guterres put the chalk in the hands of teachers, urging them to become knowledge producers, facilitators, and guides in comprehending complex realities. They must be trained and empowered to transcend from passive to active, vertical, and unidirectional to collaborative. They must promote learning based on experience, enquiry, and curiosity; develop the capacity, joy, and discipline for problem-solving.

In his view, action is required in four areas to spark this transformation. Teachers’ capacity, agency, and autonomy must be broadened, empowering them to design, interpret, manage the curriculum, and adapt and prioritise content and pedagogy. This includes implementing and mainstreaming context-responsive learning options, pedagogies, and curricula in diverse forms, assessment strategies and expected learning outcomes, from high-tech to low-tech and no-tech contexts. Undoubtedly, education goals are doomed when policymakers tell teachers how to do their jobs without adequately providing them with the tools to do so.

Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA) – South African born writer and now US Fullbright Scholar Dr Glen Retief presents a creative writing workshop for local teachers at the David Hellen Peta Secondary School in Saulsville in Pretoria, South Africa.

Throughout Africa, due to the existing teacher shortage, classrooms have a high teacher-to-pupil ratio, inevitably resulting in their message not getting across. A previous column explored teacher salaries after Rwanda bucked the trend giving its teachers massive pay hikes, far more significant than witnessed anywhere on the continent.

Rwanda is the exception to the rule.

Visiting Fellow at Saïd Business School, the University of Oxford, Martin Kalungu-Banda, wrote on LinkedIn last week how wonderful it was to be back in Kigali after four years.

“I asked the taxi driver who gave (me) a lift from the airport how they have managed to transform themselves as a country; he said, “All of us here know that we must contribute to the resources needed to rebuild our country. So, we make sure we do our part by paying taxes. Our country is being rebuilt through our efforts. Others can only supplement our sweat.”

Kalungu-Banda said he never stops being impressed by what Rwanda has demonstrated briefly: miracles are possible if leaders and their people share a vision and mobilise themselves.

He added that Rwanda – like all other nations – still has many challenges but said the energy found here is rarely seen in other parts of the world. “The question, therefore, is, “How do we generate the visions that allow for collective responsibility and action to emerge?”

If teachers are expected to become the beacon of life for Africa – and the SDGs, the global teacher shortage must be tackled with the ethos of collective responsibility like that shown in Rwanda, where they are united in a common purpose and driven by strong leadership.

But the narrative elsewhere on the continent is that government must take charge of the situation – and provide teachers with the tools to do their job. Wrong! As a society, it is incumbent on all of us to find solutions; firstly, to restore pride to the profession so that teachers understand the responsibilities placed on them in achieving the mission of a greater goal.

The Secretary-General called for recruitment and promotion mechanisms for teachers to become equitable, fair, and non-discriminatory, ensuring opportunity for women and people from vulnerable and marginalised groups. South Africa’s private schooling system is anathema because most independent schools are white-owned and led. Government ministers in the country send their children to these schools, suggesting that they know the mess the current system is in, also indicating that they have no faith in public schools. It only widens the gap. But that is another challenge on its own.

Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency (ANA)

One hopes that the call from the Secretary-General to UNESCO and partners to identify ways to strengthen political accountability for transforming and financing education can gather steam. “We must push forward together, focusing on tangible actions where it matters most: on the ground, in the classroom, and the experience of teachers and learners alike,” said Guterres.

Ahead of World Teachers Day, there is little reward for praising those who have shaped and moulded people on the African continent. We need answers as to what is being done to address the teacher shortage. How will governments throughout Africa work to improve the benefits for the profession? What can society do to help motivate teachers to raise their game while government fat cats and their union leaders mull over solutions at ineffective talk shops like the UN just held? But first, Africa desperately needs teachers!

Naidu is a journalist and communications expert. He also heads up Higher Education Media Services – a social enterprise start-up committed to stimulating dialogue and raising awareness around education and the socio-economic, environmental, and political factors it influences in South Africa and the African Continent.

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