“Teachers are few and far between”, Esnart told the audience at the global launch event of the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2013/4 in Ethiopia last month. “The truth of the matter is that huge classes and learning under unfavorable conditions in Malawi drastically reduce the quality of time that a teacher can spend with a child.This is having a negative impact on the quality of teaching and children’s ability to learn.”
Malawi has one of the world’s most dramatic teacher shortages. Our latest Report shows that the teaching force is growing at just 1% per year in the country, and the average number of children per teacher has increased from 63 in 1999 to 76 in 2011. For Malawi to achieve universal primary education by 2015, it would have needed to increase its teaching force by 15% every year. But, in addition, the capacity of its teacher education programme is currently far from sufficient to meet this need.
Unfortunately, this situation is not rare and needs to be urgently addressed. Our latest Report shows that 5.2 million primary school teachers need to be recruited globally by 2015 if we are to achieve universal primary education.
Teachers in overcrowded classrooms will struggle to ensure the children obtain foundation skills when in school. Out of the six subjects Esnart was supposed to get through, she’d sometimes teach just 2, or 3. “I just ran out of time,” she said. With limited one-on-one time with the teacher, some of the children fell asleep in class, she said, others started hitting each other or just went out to play. It is no wonder that dropout rates in such circumstances are high.
The knock-on effects of overcrowded classrooms and a lack of teachers are severe: “You will be shocked to hear that some children in Malawi reach grades three and four without being able to add up, read or write,”Esnart told us. “I’ve even seen children as old as 9 and 10 who are unable to read and write their names when clearly they should be able to do this.” Our Report confirms that even spending 4 years in school is not enough. Less than a third of young people who left school after spending no more than 4 years in school in Malawi are literate.
Low quality education of this nature has contributed to there being 250 million children who do not learn the basics around the world. In Malawi, less than half of children know how to read or count. Over the long term, this leaves young people illiterate when they are trying to find a livelihood. Youth literacy rates hardly improved over a decade in Malawi, rising from 72% in 2000 to 77% in 2010.
This teacher shortage is affecting the disadvantaged – girls, the poor, those in rural areas and the disabled – the hardest, making it essential that governments do their utmost to get teachers where they are needed most. Left unaddressed, crosscutting disadvantages of this nature build tall barriers that children find hard to overcome: In Malawi in 2010, fewer than 5% of rural poor girls were completing lower secondary school.
Part of the problem, explains Esnart, is that “rural children are taught by teachers who are often demotivated due to poor working conditions, poor accommodation and from living in remote areas where they are unable to access healthcare and other social amenities.”
The quality of an education system is only as good as the quality of its teachers. An additional hurdle in Malawi is that the teaching profession is not attracting the best candidates. Our Report shows clearly that it is not enough just to want to teach. People should enter the profession with at least a lower secondary education. Currently, however, Esnart describes the teaching profession as “a last resort”. Candidates are signing on to the profession, in other words, “because they have nowhere else to go.”
To help address this imbalance, the Malawian government has introduced a hardship allowance and offers a faster career track for teachers who work in rural areas. Open distance training is also now available to enable more teachers to be recruited locally. However, in Esnart’s words, ‘the government needs to do more to improve teacher salaries, conditions, building teacher housing, giving electricity, better facilities closer to rural areas.”
To address these deficits and meet future demand as enrolment increases, it is vital that countries ensure they attract the best candidates to the job and have the capacity to train them. Countries must start planning now to make up the shortfall, not only in primary schools but also at the lower secondary education level.
I think that you will all agree that this has to change, said Esnart at the end of her interview. We do.
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