Teacher shortage: Sub-Saharan Africa needs 15 million new educators despite gap closing globally

Recruitment target hardly changed in the region since 2016

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Wednesday 11 October 2023
Photo: iStock__

There is a shortage of 15 million teachers in sub-Saharan Africa for the region to achieve its 2030 education goals, even as the situation has improved globally in the last six years, according to latest data by UNESCO

The global teacher shortage has been reduced by almost a third, from 69 million in 2016 to 44 million now, according to the new factsheet released ahead of World Teachers’ Day (5 October, 2023).

A rapidly expanding school-age population combined with a lack of resources in sub-Saharan Africa has led to the teacher recruitment target changing only slightly since 2016, UNESCO noted.

Southern Asia has made strong progress and the shortfall has been halved since 2016, to an estimated shortage of 7.8 million teachers. 

In contrast, sub-Saharan Africa has made little progress and alone accounted for one in three of the current global shortfall, according to the analysis. 

Northern Africa needs 4.3 million additional teachers to meet teacher recruitment targets, the data showed. 

As many as 9.4 million new teachers (62 per cent of the total requirement) will be needed to fill new posts in sub-Saharan Africa.

More than twice as many teachers are needed in the region for secondary education (10.7 million) compared to primary education (4.4 million), the data showed.

Teachers keep leaving profession

Lack of financial incentives, poor working conditions, high workloads, family obligations, taking a job in another field or death were the chief causes of teacher attrition globally, the UNESCO data showed. 

Teacher attrition refers to the number of personnel leaving the profession in a given year. “Attrition not only means the loss of experienced teachers, but also poses additional costs in training and recruiting replacements – a challenge in countries with overstretched education budgets,” the authors wrote. 

In sub-Saharan Africa, analysis of data from mid to late 2010s showed primary teacher attrition rate in the region was 4.8 per cent, compared to 7.3 per cent in lower secondary.

According to the factsheet, between 2020 and 2022, primary level teacher attrition was ‘very high’ (10 per cent or more) in Sri Lanka, Ivory Coast, Lebanon, Mauritania and Rwanda.

The primary level teacher attrition was ‘alarmingly high’ (20 per cent or more) in Benin, Sierra Leone, it added.

Some countries in sub-Saharan Africa reported ‘very high’ teacher attrition. However, the rate fell in some countries because of a lack of alternative employment opportunities, the researchers noted.

Attrition rates in secondary level were higher than in primary in upper middle- and high-income countries in Europe and Latin America such as England, Finland, Brazil, Chile, Netherlands, Flemish Belgium and Lithuania.

Multilayered problem

Attrition among male teachers in primary education was higher than females in 80 per cent of the countries, according to the analysis. “It is more than two times higher in Algeria, Belarus, Bhutan, Djibouti, Egypt, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Morocco, Mongolia, Niger, Seychelles, Togo,” the authors said.

In India, however, the rate was higher among women primary teachers (2.04 per cent) in 2022 compared to men (1.4 per cent), they added.

The factors causing more women than men to leave the profession may be due to lack of suitable housing, unsafe or unsanitary working conditions or discrimination due to views on women’s role in the workforce, the researchers underlined.

The shortage not only affects the students but also existing teachers who are burdened with increased class sizes, UNESCO said. 

A study in Rwanda found that “high rates of turnover led to 21 per cent of teachers teaching in subjects for which they had no training”, the organisation noted. 

Schools and education systems can feel pressure from high levels of teacher attrition, as well, it added. 

In South Africa, low salaries and working conditions push many to emigrate seeking better options abroad, research showed. Higher wages and benefits in other careers can therefore pull professionals away from teaching.

In the North-West Province of South Africa, more than 78 per cent of recently resigned teachers cited low salary and benefits as their reason for departure.

Here, the high rates of attrition stemmed from teachers’ dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of a pension fund.

“Teachers play a vital role in our societies, yet this profession is facing a major vocation crisis. Some regions of the world lack candidates. Other regions face a very high dropout rate during the first few years of work. In both cases, the answer is the same: we must better value, better train and better support teachers,” Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO director-general said.

“If we want to reverse the teacher shortage, we need to address its multidimensionality using a broad perspective, including short, medium and long terms strategies,” UNESCO noted in the report. 

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