The global teacher shortage

Charles McIntyre Co-Founder of EdTech Europe proposes how mobile learning could be the solution

The international community has pledged to provide every child with 12 years of education by 2030. A bold pledge, considering the resources this will require. Even with today’s population there is an acute shortage of teachers, never mind the 59 million children excluded from primary education. To reach every child in 2015, the world would need to hire an extra 2.7 million primary school teachers. By 2030, the total demand just for primary school teachers would rise to 25.8 million, with 3.2 million new posts and 22.6 million to compensate for attrition.

The region facing the biggest challenge is sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for more than half of the teacher shortage today and two-thirds by 2030.

The challenge is that the current growth rates of teacher recruitment are not sufficient to meet the future requirements in sub-Saharan Africa, let alone those today. The problem is further compounded when you assess the quality of teachers in the classroom.

Where primary education systems have expanded rapidly, many teachers have been recruited without meeting national minimum qualifications and training standards. According to UNESCO data, in 32 of the 94 countries with data, less than 75% of primary school teachers were reportedly trained according to national standards in 2013. More than one-half (18 out of 32) of these countries are in sub-Saharan Africa.

So how do we solve this problem? The good news is that there is already a large infrastructure investment in the key area of distribution: mobile. The graph below illustrates the current penetration of active mobile broadband subscriptions (from the United Nations ITU agency) between developing and developed nations, together with a projection from IBIS Capital. What is clear is that we are able to reach a large part of the world’s population through mobile broadband, and that penetration is growing quickly. Within 5 years we expect to be able to reach over 80% of the world’s population.

If we consider sub-Saharan Africa in particular, then the growth of mobile is even more striking. The region has been the fastest growing in the world, in terms of both unique subscribers and sim card connections. By 2020 there will be an estimated 525 million smartphones, up from only 72 million at the end of 2013.

However, if we are to use mobile learning then we will need to adapt the educational frameworks and business models surrounding education. We need global initiatives around the pedagogy, curriculum, testing and certification. We also need to be less precious about global standardisation in certain areas of education. For example a Microsoft Certification to be an Enterprise Administrator on a Windows Server is linked to particular coursework and an exam. The certificate is universal, so should a range of academic qualifications, particularly across STEM subjects.

International curricula and examinations are already growing, where they are available. So for example, one of the fastest growing international education programmes is the International Bacalaureat (IB), which is already being taught to approximately 1.25 million students across large parts of the world.

At the heart of the attractiveness of the Microsoft Certification and the IB is the international recognition of the qualification. To drive effective education to a mobile online environment, we need to create recognised international bodies that can authorise the testing and the issue of appropriate certificates. Once the value of the qualification is recognised the global hunger to learn will ensure that the content reaches all four corners of the globe.

The cost of setting up supra national online and mobile certification for a range of core subjects would be a tiny, tiny, fraction of the cost of trying to recruit the additional teachers and building the necessary schools. So if the international community is going to have any chance of honouring their pledges to provide 12 years of schooling to every child on this planet, then they will need to invest in mobile content and pedagogies, now.


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