The 11th Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Teaching and Learning: Achieving quality for all, reveals that 40% of children are not learning the basics in reading and mathematics, over half of whom have spent four years in school. This global learning crisis is costing governments $129 billion a year. This is the equivalent of ten per cent of global spending on primary education being lost on poor quality education that is failing to ensure that children learn. By contrast, the Report shows that ensuring an equal, quality education for all can generate huge economic rewards, increasing a country’s gross domestic product per capita by 23 per cent over 40 years.
At this primary school in Sindh, Pakistan, children have no school to go to because their school-building collapsed years ago. They now go to classes under a tree. Learning in such conditions is very difficult.
The EFA Global Monitoring Report shows that without attracting and adequately training enough teachers the learning crisis will last for several generations and hit the disadvantaged hardest. In order to achieve universal primary education by 2015, 5.2 million teachers need to be recruited. Without enough teachers, crowded classrooms will make it difficult for children to get the support they need to learn the basics. Children living in hard to reach areas, who are often affected by poverty, will find there are not enough qualified teachers at their school to help them catch up with their peers. In many sub-Saharan African countries, for example, the Report reveals that only one in five of the poorest children reach the end of primary school having learnt the basics.
At this primary school in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, there are 174 learners in one class. Many children don’t turn up to school because the learning conditions are so poor.
Poor quality education is leaving a legacy of illiteracy among young people now facing the world of work more widespread than previously believed. On current trends, the EFA Global Monitoring Report projects that it will take until 2072 for all the poorest young women in developing countries to be literate; and possibly until the next century for all girls from the poorest families in sub-Saharan Africa to finish lower secondary school.
Soad is a 20 year old girl living in Cairo, Egypt. She works as a house cleaner because she never got the chance to go to school and does not know how to read or write.
In a third of countries analysed by the Report, less than three-quarters of existing primary school teachers are trained to national standards. Teachers need training to be able to support those who need the most help, especially in the early grades, and students from a wide range of backgrounds. This training should include classroom experience before they begin teaching and include access to mentors throughout their career.
At this primary school in Shikarpur, Sindh, Pakistan there is only one teacher and she only has basic training. She is expected to look after 100 pupils over five different grades.
The Report shows that an education system is only as good as its teachers. This means that governments must attract the best candidates into teaching who want to help the disadvantaged to learn and have at least a lower secondary education.
Rob is a teacher working in a school in Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest areas of London, UK. His school still manages to achieve better results than schools in its more affluent neighbourhoods. “Bridging the gap between our students and middle class students doesn’t just happen through classroom work,” he said. “We give our students the opportunities that more advantaged children take for given and get at home. We build the children’s ‘cultural capital’. We focus on educating the whole child and believe that exam results will follow.”
It is essential that the best teachers reach the learners who need them most. National education plans must include an explicit commitment to reaching the marginalized. Teachers should be recruited locally, or have similar backgrounds to disadvantaged learners. Incentives must be provided to ensure the best teachers work in remote, under-served areas.
In Brazil, state spending is complemented with federal allocations for schools in difficult or remote areas, with greater weight given to those serving highly marginalized indigenous groups. This policy helps reducing learning inequalities in the country.
Governments must provide incentives in order to retain the best teachers. Teachers need to be paid at least enough to meet their basic needs and offered the best possible working conditions. An attractive career path can reward teachers who address diversity and support weak students.
Boniface is a teacher in Kenya who has had to take on a second job running a store at the weekend to supplement his low teacher salary. “Teaching is more than just a profession, it’s also a calling,” he said. “The only problem is the pay isn’t that high. That’s why I had to start the business. At the end of the month when you get it [salary] you find that expenditure is even more than the income. If I compare the two, I can say that the business is better than teaching [for income]. Running a business and teaching is positive for my income and at times negative for my teaching. But it’s mostly negative on my side because I have to strain to ensure that I fully satisfy my business and to meet the needs of my pupils.”
The Report recommends improving teacher education so that all children can learn. Teachers need training to be able to support those who need the most help, especially in the early grades, and students from a wide range of backgrounds. They need to be trained in the use of assessment tools that enable them to detect and address learning difficulties early. Teachers need classroom experience and access to mentors throughout their career to help them learn new teaching methods.
Marianne is a teacher coach at a primary school in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, South Africa. “We see that good teaching methods are applied, see that the teachers are doing what they are supposed to be doing. The Minister of Education calls us coaches ‘a critical friend’, and that’s sort of a key phrase of what we are. Critical in that we develop and give guidance and problem solve with the teachers. And friend because we build up a situation of trust. They know what they say to us will remain confidential, and know you have their best interest at heart, the way a friend does. That is a coach. We are a mentor, we’re a guide, we’re a friend. And sometimes we are a disciplinarian, in a nice way.”
The Report underscores the importance of suitable curriculum to promote inclusion and improve learning. Curricula that do not acknowledge and address issues of inclusion can alienate disadvantaged groups within the classroom, and so limit their chances to learn effectively. In many developing countries, teachers lack strategies to identify and support low achievers, proceeding with the regular curriculum regardless of their learning needs. This leaves many children at risk of falling behind the curriculum, failing to acquire foundation skills and remaining unable to catch up.
This teacher in a school in Lao Cai, Viet Nam, uses the national curriculum which focuses on ensuring children learn the foundation skills at an early age. “With Math and Vietnamese, you have the new curriculum. What’s different with the new model is that, the teacher no longer just “lectures” but has to constantly engage the students. And where there is active teaching, there is active learning. In other words, the focus has switched from teachers to students.”
Assessment strategies are needed that help teachers identify and support low achievers. To be effective, classroom assessment materials need to be aligned with the curriculum and designed in ways that do not add greatly to teachers’ workloads. In situations where teachers have not been trained to develop and use diagnostic tests, prepared assessment packages can be useful. Students can also benefit from the use of assessments in the classroom to improve their own learning.
This primary school teacher is using an ‘activity based learning’ method that has been mainstreamed in all government and government-aided primary schools in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The method works by generating internal feedback to improve learning. There are no examinations and no classroom rankings, lessening possible damage to self-esteem and motivation to drop out. Its success shows that it can be effective on a large scale.
New education goals after 2015 must include an explicit commitment to equity so that every child has an equal chance of an education. Insufficient progress towards education goals reveals a failure to reach the marginalized. In low and lower middle income countries, the poorest rural young women have only spent three years on average in school – with little change since 2000, and at least six years behind the richest urban young men. New goals need clear, measurable targets with indicators that will track the progress of the most disadvantaged.