Teacher and student

Every child needs a good teacher, especially in the early grades

By Pauline Rose, director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report

Worldwide, 250 million primary school age children are not learning the basics – even though almost half of them are in school. Studies in several countries have shown that many children spend two or three years in school without learning to read a single word. That is why the 2013-14 EFA Global Monitoring Report will focus on recruiting and training effective teachers, who are vital to overcoming the learning gap and providing equitable education for all.

Photo Ethiopia Copyright UNESCO/Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures London UK Design by Nicolas Gros - Wild is the Game.com
Photo Ethiopia Copyright UNESCO/Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures London UK
Design by Nicolas Gros – Wild is the Game.com

“Every child needs a teacher” is also the theme of this year’s Global Action Week, organized by the Global Campaign for Education. Teacher shortages are one of the main reasons for the learning crisis. In some sub-Saharan African countries, there are over 100 students per teacher. But as our latest policy paper explains, lack of teachers is not the only problem. Every child needs a good teacher. Unfortunately, many teachers lack training, especially in the poorest areas – where they are needed most.

Our new paper, Addressing the crisis in early grade teaching explains the importance of ensuring that the best trained teachers are allocated to children in the early grades, where they can have the biggest impact on the weakest students. Reaching children at this young age can prevent them from dropping out before they have even learnt to read or write; it brings huge benefits to their learning potential later in life.

A good teacher needs to have a good level of education. In many countries, however, this is not the case. In northern Nigeria, for example, 78% of 1,200 basic education teachers were found to have “limited” knowledge of English after taking a reading comprehension test and correcting sentences written by a 10-year-old. In Kenya, grade 6 teachers were given a mathematics test based on the primary school syllabus. The average teacher score was only 60%, with some teachers scoring as low as 17%. Not surprisingly, their students also received low scores on the same test, averaging around 47%. Clearly, students cannot be expected to learn subjects that their teachers have not mastered themselves.

Teachers must not only master their subjects; they must also develop strong teaching skills. Unfortunately, teacher training often does not provide teachers with the appropriate skills to teach reading to young children. A study of six sub-Saharan Africa countries found that teacher trainees received very little introduction to teaching early grade reading. In most countries, teachers were not prepared for multilingual classrooms. In addition, many of the training programmes did not offer classroom time with supervision and support, resulting in many new teachers starting without any practical experience.

Some countries have already put ambitious reforms in place to address the need for good teachers with solid training behind them. Our research has seen excellent results from a USAID project in Central America and the Caribbean training 3,400 teachers in reading and writing, for example, and from a distance learning programme for 25,000 teachers in Ghana. These kinds of reforms and teacher training programmes are needed on a much larger scale in order to overcome the learning crisis.

As noted by leaders at last week’s Learning for All Ministerial meeting, the current Millennium Development Goals for education focus only on access; quality of education and learning should be a priority for any new goals after 2015. And, if we want to help an additional 250 million children to learn the basics, we must start by attracting and training the best teachers.



  1. Et si on proposait aux enseignants français volontaires de participer à des actions rémunérées pendant les vacances scolaires ?

  2. I was convinced long ago that there’s a global education problem and it saddens me to think we still need instructional articles like this one to make that point. I also don’t need any convincing of what needs fixing and the goals to set. But, I do get impatient to hear how we intend to achieve those goals.

    You say “we must start by attracting and training the best teachers”. But, how will we attract and train them? While I think that’s part of the long term solution, kids are being taught every day. What’s the plan to help the in-place teachers? Certainly we’re not saying they all need to be replaced. How about giving them more training and resources so they can perform at higher levels as another prong in the plan?

    Here’s the real challenge – leveraging the world’s existing pool of high quality teaching talent and teaching materials. How can we literally connect volunteer quality teachers across the globe with teachers who need help? How can we make available the highest quality teaching materials in use today to teachers with insufficient materials? And, how do we do this in a low cost and scalable way? My suggestion is to use an Internet cloud-based system to build globally accessible information libraries and with tools to connect teachers for sharing, collaboration and support?

  3. Tom Somstrund makes a fundamental point: yes, we need to recruit and train a new generation of
    teachers but we also need at the same time to support and re-skill the teachers we have already and to improve their pay and social standing in their communities.

    How many countries have a National Plan for Teacher Education and Support at both levels which is designed to meet the aims and objectives of the post 2015 MDGs for a higher quality of education extending to at least mid-secondary level.

    There is a role here for UNESCO in providing examples of good practice and exploring new approaches to initial and post-experience training – for example, through itinerant training teams, through the use of the internet, social media and mobile phones and through international networks such as http://www.eenet.org.uk which has disseminated examples of the inclusion of children with disabilities in some of the poorest countries of the world, such as Lesotho.

  4. I concur with both of you on how to get the best out of teaching. As you suggested, attracting and recruiting skilled teachers, training and re training of current teachers for skills improvement. The big question is HOW can all these be possible especially from poor countries like that of sub – Saharan Africa taking cognizance of our unending challenges? We need to embark on serious advocacy on attitudinal change from our leaders to give education its rightful place in the scheme of things that is to change the current situation of giving education a leap service at all the time.

  5. Hi,

    I appreciate the support to fill the biggest gaps in education.

    This is not an easy job. You cannot make every child educated easily. Its like eating an elephant in one shot. Start with solving problems one by one.

    There may be or are many problems in the current education system but one of the major problem is “Lack of quality education”.
    For this I have a plan/suggestion to improve the quality in education.

    Steps to follow:

    1: Create an organization where children can able to enroll themselves and learn online.
    2: Recruit best teachers and upload teaching videos course by course for each grade/class starting from class 1st to class 12th.
    3: Conduct weekly exams, surprise tests, innovative day and check the progress of each and every child. This will increase their focus and knowledge in subject.
    4: Conduct workshops where your organization children go to near by schools and teach the lower grade children and write report. This will increase the love towards education.
    5: Conduct a final exam but include the weekly and surprise tests also while giving a final certificate.
    6: If a child didn’t able to pass or progress to next level set up a counselor and have a meeting with him/her and understand the problem.
    7: And most important give a recognition to the final certificate, so that the passed student can able to join further programs like engineering, doctor etc. Without this every thing is waste.

    There is already such organization http://coursera.org but its not for children.

    The major mistake every organization did or do is, they come up with a plan to educate, and start a campaign and that’s it.
    After one year what is the progress if you observe then there is nothing you will find.
    Their focus is/was to bring education among poor and needy only but never thought or care about rich or middle class children’s education.
    Poor children need to work and study at the same time, and it is not possible for them to manage both(work and study) due to lack of support from the family or other financial factors.

    Instead if you focus on educating children irrespective of anything then you can reduce lack of quality in education.
    Start with semi developed countries like India, China, Pakistan etc… where the education rate is not balanced. I mean countries where few children are very educated and few are not at all.

    Hope you got my plan and suggestion.

  6. Great to have identified the need to focus on teachers – both training and supporting those already in service as well as new members – as a means of improving education quality. Coming from a grant-making foundation, I would be interested to learn more about who is working in this space – who are the organisations that we think are reaching those in need of support and with the right kind of model?

  7. أشكرك الجميع على هذا الحس التربوي تجاه أبنائنا
    ربما يسهم مشاركتي معكم بإجاز بسيط
    أظن أن أحد العوامل المهمة في انخفاض جودة التعليم
    ضعف الجدية في العمل
    فلو وجدت الجدية لأستطاع كل معلم الوصول ولو بنسبة إلى الهدف
    ولكن ينقصنا التعرف على الطريقة الصحيحة في ذلك

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