Universal education will require nearly 70 million more teachers

6 Oct 16

The world will need another 69 million teachers if every child is to have the opportunity to go to school by 2030, the United Nations has warned.


According to figures from UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics, countries around the world will need to recruit and train 24.4 million primary and 44.4 million secondary school teachers over the next 14 years to provide universal education at both stages.

This includes teachers to replace those leaving the profession as well as three million and 16.7 million recruits to primary and secondary roles respectively.

Alongside the report, published to mark World Teachers’ Day (yesterday), the heads of UN agencies Unicef, the UN Development Programme and Unesco published a joint letter.

It warned that the UN sustainable development goal to provide inclusive equitable and high-quality education for all by 2030 would not be achieved unless the supply of teachers was increased and they were empowered to be “agents of education change in the lives of students”.

Currently, around 263 million children and young people worldwide are out of school. This includes 25 million children of primary school age who will never set foot in a classroom.

Of older children in low-income countries, just under 14% will complete upper secondary education.

Sub-Saharan Africa, where the teacher gap is at its largest (17 million), and South Asia (15 million) are the worst affected regions, and where global targets on education, agreed at the UN last year, are most at risk of being missed.

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa suffer lack resources. As well as a dearth of facilities and equipment, 70% of countries in the region are short of primary school teachers. That figure rises to 90% at secondary level.

At the same time, the region has the largest number of school age children in the world. As demand rises, teachers and students struggle in overcrowded classrooms.

In the Central African Republic, the average teacher-to-pupil ratio is 80:1. Other nations have a ratio above 60:1.

Many governments are turning to private, fee-charging providers to plug the gap, but that method comes with its own controversies.

In South Asia, classrooms are frequently packed and enrolment, particularly in rural areas, is low.

Together, these two regions account for over 76% of the new teachers needed. However, Unesco’s data shows that teacher shortages are a problem for developing nations the world over.


Number of teachers needed for universal education by 2030. Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Global number of teachers needed to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030, in five year intervals. Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

The joint letter, signed by Irina Bokova of Unesco, Anthony Lake of Unicef, Helen Clark of the UN Development Programme, Guy Ryder of the International Labour Organization, and Fred van Leeuwen of Educational International, said this is often because teachers are undervalued.

“Many teachers still work with inadequate contracts and pay. They often live in difficult conditions, and lack appropriate initial training, continuous professional development and consistent support. They are sometimes the victims of discrimination and even violent attacks.

“How can we recruit these new teachers and attract them to the vital profession when, around the world, so many are undertrained, underpaid and undervalued?”

A report by the European Commission, also published yesterday, presented evidence that even in the advanced world, the profession is often not granted appropriate recognition.

It identified wide variations in pay and salary conditions across the bloc, prompting the EU commissioner for education, Tibor Navracsics, to urge member states to ensure it remains an attractive career choice.

Silvia Montoya, director of Unesco’s Institute for Statistics, agreed more investment is needed in teachers, especially in the developing world.

“Global progress will depend on whether there even is a teacher or a classroom in which to teach with a manageable number of children, instead of 60, 70 or more pupils. We also need training, resources and support for teachers to do their job,” she said.

“Entire education systems are gearing up for the big push to achieve SDG 4 [on education] by 2030. But education systems are only as good as their teachers.”

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