Edited by Hilary Perraton
Good education demands good teachers. Over the course of the twentieth
century, as the teaching profession has grown, so have its standards risen.
Many teacher-training courses in rich countries now last for four years and
follow after 12 years of schooling: teachers have now had four more years of
full-time education than used to be the norm. Society has steadily expected
more of teachers in the variety of tasks they have to perform, in the skills they
need to master and in the imagination required for their work. Rising
expectations have brought rising quality. But, in the last third of the century,
near-impossible burdens have been placed on the teaching service of
developing countries. The end of the colonial era brought new demands for
education. Schools had to expand at an unprecedented rate and needed to be
staffed. Demographic pressure and the practical difficulty of expanding
teacher education in pace with the demand for schooling made for a chronic
shortage of teachers in much of Africa and Asia.
A shortage of teachers will either reduce the chances of children getting an
education at all, or reduce the quality of what they do get. In many cases
‘prospective primary teachers in developing countries typically have not
completed secondary education’ (Lockheed and Verspoor 1989, para. 207).
Where teachers’ own education is limited, they lack the confidence,
knowledge and skills to teach much more than they were themselves taught,
or to teach in a different way. The problems are at their most severe in the
poorest countries: one estimate suggests that by the end of the century lowincome
countries will still lack 1.8 million teachers (ibid., para. 20). Public
pressure to widen opportunities for schooling, and the very success of
ministries in opening new schools in response to this pressure, mean that
demands for schooling have run ahead of the supply of teachers. Teacher
shortages have been compounded by attrition as teachers have left a profession
whose relative status and income has declined in many countries over the last
Quality matters as well as quantity. To do their job well, teachers need to
possess a mastery of the subject matter they are to teach and to be skilled in
the process of teaching: a tall order for those who enter teaching with aminimal education, may receive little or no training in pedagogy and are quite
likely to teach in a school with meagre resources. While, in many countries, it
may be possible to see an end to the problems of scarcity, problems of quality
are bound to linger. An undertrained teacher beginning work this year may
teach the grandchildren of today’s class before retiring at the age of 60,
well into the next century.
While this picture is common to many countries, i t is neither
homogeneous nor uniform. Some countries already have more teachers than
they need or will soon do so. Many have been able to raise the entry level to
the teaching profession. But, even where this is the case, some kinds of
teachers are scarce: women teachers in many Muslim countries; technical
and vocational teachers where industry pays them better; mathematicians
and scientists almost everywhere.
These problems of quality and quantity have not been solved by the
development and expansion of conventional methods of teacher training.
Where birth rates are high, and where education expanded rapidly in the
1960s to 1980s, the development of teacher education has tended to lag
behind demand, constrained by a shortage of human, physical and financial
resources. Good teacher trainers have themselves been scarce. Buildings
require capital. Once built, colleges need books and resources. Teacher
training, even where it is doing little more than providing secondary
education, may cost between one-and-a-half and ten times per student as
much as the cost of secondary education (ibid., para. 215).
Thus, while teacher education has dramatically expanded, it has done so
within an economic straitjacket, pulled tighter by the strings of demography.
It is small wonder that it has barely kept pace with the demands for
initial teacher training for new teachers, let alone dealing with the backlog
of those already in service; teacher-training colleges have generally had too
much to do in their main job of initial training to take on the extra job of
continuing education for those who have already passed through their gates.