28.01.2014 -

Quality Teaching – the New Frontier - El Huffingtonpost.es (Spain), El UNIVERSAL (Mexico), ABC COLOR (Paraguay), SEMANARIO Educación (Costa Rica)

Article published on 28 and 29 January 2014 in El Huffingtonpost.es (SPAIN), El UNIVERSAL (MEXICO), ABC COLOR (PARAGUAY), SEMANARIO Educación (Costa Rica).

Imagine you are a young boy or girl from a poor rural area, whose family has been struggling to get you to school. Like 50 million others across the world since 2000, you have finally reached the classroom. Now, the question you face is simple: what will you learn? The answer, sadly, is not much.

The world faces a deep learning crisis. More and more girls and boys are getting to school – and this reflects tremendous efforts by Governments across the world – but education systems are failing to provide them with the skills and knowledge they need to fulfil their aspirations.

UNESCO’s new Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Teaching and Learning, reveals that 250 million children are not acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills, even after years in school. In sub-Saharan Africa -- the worst affected region 40 percent of young people have had so little, or such low quality education that they are unable to read a sentence. Girls and women are hit hardest. In South and West Asia, we estimate that women represent two thirds of young people who cannot read.

Discrimination is being exacerbated by the crisis. More fortunate children are taught by teachers with the best training and resources, while the most disadvantaged get teachers with the least training and support.

For years, governments have worked on getting children into the classroom – now, we must concentrate on the quality of what they learn, and this means focussing on teachers.

Teachers are essential for tackling the learning crisis. They are essential for promoting human rights and dignity, for nurturing active and engaged citizens, for creating the conditions to eliminate poverty and build inclusive, sustainable development.

The quality of education concerns developed and developing countries alike. The fact is, an education system is only as good as its teachers, and nothing can substitute for a good teacher. To give every child an equal chance, I believe we must act at four levels.

First, governments must recruit teachers from diverse backgrounds in order to reflect the experience of children in their classrooms. Afghanistan, for instance, is committed to increasing the number of female teachers by 50% this year, so as to close the learning gap between girls and boys.

Second, we need better training to help teachers support disadvantaged students. There are good examples to draw on -- in Malawi, for instance, where training gives new teachers experience of working with disadvantaged and vulnerable children.

Third, teachers must be given incentives to teach in remote and underserved schools. Again, we can build on strategies that are working well -- for example, in the Republic of Korea, where stipends and promotion opportunities for qualified and experienced teachers provide disadvantaged populations with access to quality education. The best teachers must also be given incentives to remain in the profession, through attractive career paths, secure contracts and fair pay. Too often, countries expect wonders without focusing on teaching as a priority.

Most of all, governments must recognise that good teachers need a good education system, with an inclusive curriculum that moves at the right pace and with effective classroom assessment tools to identify and support students who need it most.

The stakes are high. Ana, a teacher from Peru, captured them well, when she told us: “I chose to be a teacher because I believe that education has the power to transform the society we live in.”

Teachers renew this commitment every day in the classroom. Our responsibility is to help them, because this is the best way to promote the rights and dignity of every girl and boy and to build more open and just societies. 

These policy changes have a cost, but so does the world’s learning crisis – which UNESCO estimates at $129 billion globally a year. If we don’t act now, the price will be paid over generations and become much higher. The world simply cannot afford this.



Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

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