A teacher at the Betokomia Trois bush school in Central African Republic. Photo by: Simon Davis / DFID / CC BY-NC-ND

DUBAI — The Education Commission and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development have launched a new partnership designed to rethink the “education workforce” in developing countries in order to address the “learning crisis” and the fast-changing jobs landscape.

The Education Workforce Initiative was announced during this year’s star-studded Global Education & Skills Forum, which convened thousands of education actors as well as celebrities in a Davos-style conference held in Dubai over the weekend.

Minding the gaps at the Global Education & Skills Forum

The Global Education & Skills Forum, a kind of Davos for the global education set, is starting in Dubai amid a global "learning crisis" that permeates every aspect of the development sector. Devex Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar sums up what we might learn from a gathering of education leaders and practitioners looking for new ways to tackle a stark reality: Global education is failing.

Drawing its inspiration from innovations in health systems, EWI will look into how the education sector can broaden its workforce beyond the traditional focus on teachers and school leaders — similar to how the health system includes a range of professional support staff. In Chile, for example, for every doctor there are 4.5 nursing, midwifery, and community health worker staff. But each teacher is supported by only about 0.3 teacher aides and other support staff, according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development data. This means teachers and school leaders are left to deliver a raft of administrative work and more, alongside their primary responsibilities.

EWI will kick off with a research project and report on education workforce reform leading to at least three pilots in countries currently being selected and is being jointly funded by the Education Commission — launched in 2015 to put education more firmly on the global development map — and DFID.

It comes at a time when developing countries are experiencing a “learning crisis,” with around a third of all children receiving little or no education according to the World Development Report. At the same time, technological advancements are threatening to make many jobs redundant even as the population grows rapidly, especially in Africa.  

All of these factors mean achieving the Sustainable Development Goals on education will be very difficult, Liesbet Steer, director of the Education Commission, told Devex during the GESF conference in Dubai on Sunday.

“We’ve been talking about this learning crisis for a while, but it’s much bigger than we ever thought … and the level and speed at which change will be needed is going to need to be much greater if we are in any way serious about the SDGs,” Steer said. Even making “serious headway to meeting them” will require massive scaling up, she added.

Teachers must be a major part of the solution, Steer said, but research from the Education Commission’s 2016 “Learning Generation” report shows that most lower- and middle-income countries currently face huge teacher shortages, both in terms of quantity and quality.  Furthermore, demand for teachers is set to double by 2030, Steer said.

“We are facing a double challenge in which the world needs more teachers, but also needs teachers better equipped to prepare students with the skills of the future,” explained former South Korean education minister Ju-Ho Lee, who is an Education Commissioner.

Also, current teachers are severely time constrained — in some developing countries they spend less than half of their working day actually teaching due to burdensome administrative tasks, Steer said. In order to address these issues, the Education Commission says governments need to think differently and should take inspiration from the health sector’s diversified workforce.

“The solution to that is that we should actually try and think differently about who are the people who eventually deliver education,” she said, and this could include bringing in a new set of education actors that can “help deliver the scale, the constant change, and the innovation that comes with that [change],” which the sector needs.

This does not just mean recruiting more teachers’ aides, but could include IT specialists as well as social workers, Steer added.

EWI comes off the back of recommendations made in the Education Commission’s 2016 report to “strengthen and diversify the education workforce” and will kick off by convening a group of international experts to “review the roles required within the education workforce to help young people succeed,” with a report due to be published early next year. EWI will then work in three countries to pilot specific approaches to address the education workforce gaps and challenges identified in the report.

Susan Hopgood, president of Education International, welcomed EWI and agreed the education sector needs to expand and better support its workforce. However, increasing the number of support staff should be done in such a way as to “complement and collaborate” with teachers, not replace them.  

“We see the EWI as an opportunity to unleash the potential of support personnel and we will work closely with the Education Commission to do just that,” starting with a conference for international education support staff which EI will host in Belgium next year, Hopgood said during a side event at the GESF on Sunday.  

This point was echoed by Teopista Birungi Mayanja, regional coordinator for the Africa Network Campaign for Education For All and founder of the Uganda National Teachers’ Union, who said “teachers are the most significant investment in education,” since they account for most of education spending but also because they are the “change agents,” and so “everything we are doing we will not achieve until we pay attention to them,” she added.

“There’s a lot of waste in relation to the government systems and the teachers … we can’t afford to do the same things over and over … We need innovation and we can’t run away from technology.”

— Teopista Birungi Mayanja, regional coordinator for the Africa Network Campaign for Education For All 

Teachers therefore need “support,” added Mayanja, who is also a former teacher and an education commissioner. She stressed that this is “not just about salary” but needs to include broader institutional reform to motivate teachers and “enable them to do the work they are supposed to do.”

However, Mayanja was also clear that teachers and governments need to change their thinking to embrace innovation, technology, and change.

“There’s a lot of waste in relation to the government systems and the teachers,” she said, adding that “we can’t afford to do the same things over and over… We need innovation and we can’t run away from technology,” she said.

Overcoming resistance from schools and also a “political economy” in which education is not prioritized are two major challenges EWI will need to address. How to finance the workforce reforms to be outlined by EWI will be a second challenge according to Steer, who said the cost implications were not yet known and would be revealed in the report.

The focus on investing in good teaching and also on reaching the most marginal groups, including girls, students with disabilities, and refugee children, is in line with DFID’s recently published education policy as Devex reported.

“Over the next decade, a billion more young people across the world will be looking for jobs — and we know that the quality of teaching they receive now, will directly impact their ability to make the most of their talents in the future,” said DFID minister Harriett Baldwin.

“The Education Workforce Initiative will provide crucial research, so we can ensure our investment into good teaching is delivering the best results — reaching all children with the best quality education,” she added.

Update, March 20, 2018: This article has been updated to reflect that Teopista Birungi Mayanja is a founder of the Uganda National Teachers’ Union.

About the author

  • Sophie Edwards

    Sophie Edwards is a Reporter for Devex based in London covering global development news including global education, water and sanitation, innovative financing, the environment along with other topics. She has previously worked for NGOs, the World Bank and spent a number of years as a journalist for a regional newspaper in the U.K. She has an MA from the Institute of Development Studies and a BA from Cambridge University.