ISLAMABAD: The annual growth rate of primary teachers in Pakistan would have to be increased by about 50 per cent or more than 10 per cent annually to achieve the goal of universal primary education (UPE) by 2030, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Data compiled in the ‘Current Trends in the Status and Development Teachers’ report, released to mark ‘World Teachers Day’ states that more secondary teachers are needed in the country due to the larger capacity for expansion at that level.

According to a report by the Asian Development Bank, Pakistan’s public primary and secondary education system comprises of 1.7 million teachers in 2021, reflecting an increase of 21pc compared to 2015. Despite significant increase in hiring of new teachers since 2019, a shortage of well-trained teachers continues to undermine the quality of teaching and learning outcomes.

While the average pupil-teacher ratios for all school levels across Pakistan seem reasonable, vast differences exist across public schools within and across districts, accentuating challenges with optimal teacher deployment and multi-grade teaching remains widely prevalent nationally, it added.

At the middle, high, and higher secondary school levels, the inadequacy of subject specialists poses a major challenge to improving student learning outcomes. Despite recent teacher recruitment efforts, shortages of mathematics, science, and English language teachers persist, with even greater demand-supply gaps in rural areas.

In many low-income countries and some middle-income countries, especially Africa and Southern Asia, high birth rates mean that school-aged populations are rapidly increasing, so substantial additional demand for teachers is likely, representing significant but necessary claims on education budgets.

Based on the most recent analysis by the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030, data shows that teacher targets remain out of reach for the two regions with the greatest needs, sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.

In Southern Asia, new projections call for an additional 7 million teachers by 2030, including 1.7 million in primary and 5.3 million in secondary education. Across both regions, greater numbers of secondary than primary teachers are needed due to the larger capacity for expansion at that level.

The report states that all world regions still need more teachers, especially those that have rapidly growing school-aged population. In most high-income countries where universal primary education (UPE) and secondary education (USE) have already been achieved or are very close to being achieved, demand for teachers is relatively low due to the often slow, stagnant or declining growth of school-aged population.

Nevertheless, since the return to in-person teaching after Covid-19 school closures, several high-income countries have reported a lack of teachers: 9,100 primary teachers are needed in the Netherlands, 4,000 in France, 2,558 in Japan and many more in the United States.

The report states that teachers employed on the basis of contracts pose challenges in terms of qualifications and sustainability, and better long-term solutions are needed. Women’s participation in the teaching profession is marked by the same gender-based inequalities as society at large, which poses problems for female teachers in their lives and career development, and also impacts educational quality and demand for education.

Data shows that countries with the lowest proportion of females in the primary teacher workforce are strongly correlated with low female enrolment in secondary education, which is a prerequisite for teacher training.

To address persistent teacher shortages and the lack of diversity in the teaching profession, the report suggests that improving the status and social standing of the teaching profession must be done to attract more candidates by reinforcing social dialogue and teacher participation in educational decision-making. It also recommended improving financing for teachers through integrated national reform strategies and effective governance, allocating 4 to 6pc of the gross domestic product (GDP) or 15 to 20pc of the public expenditure to education.

World Teachers’ Day is a yearly occasion to celebrate teachers and all related professionals for their work and their invaluable contribution to the shaping of citizens and communities. It is also a time for reflection and critical analysis of teachers’ professional situation and the challenges they face.

The Unesco report shows that teacher shortages are persistent, and a gender imbalance also continues, both among classroom teachers and school leaders. Too many teachers are leaving the profession, often early in their careers, due to unattractive working conditions. In many countries, teachers face over-crowded classrooms, longer working hours and a lack of professional and socio-emotional support.

Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2022

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