Why it matters?
A teacher’s responsibility is not simply to teach. Teachers must help students acquire the competencies to problem solve, analyze, focus on difficult tasks, think creatively, communicate, and work with others. Teachers have the responsibility to ensure that all children—each with their own challenges and potential—can learn effectively and have an enriching experience in school.
Successful education systems have policies to attract, prepare, motivate, and support teachers in this challenging task. Unfortunately, despite good intentions, many countries are failing to do this. Students often sit in classrooms where they do not learn. Eventually they see no point in staying in school and drop out, having wasted the most important years for skills development. Governments and societies, meanwhile, will have used up scarce financial resources without achieving the learning outcomes and quality education they need.
Lost teaching time is a challenge facing many school systems: In Latin America, about 20 percent of potential instructional time is lost—the equivalent of one fewer day of instruction a week. These problems are more severe in remote communities, amplifying the disadvantages already facing rural students.
The challenges are particularly salient because absenteeism wastes considerable resources. Data from 1,300 villages in India shows nearly 24 percent of teachers were absent during unannounced visits—which costs the country about $1.5 billion per year. Reducing absenteeism in these schools would be more than ten times more cost effective at increasing student-teacher contact time than hiring additional teachers.
Another challenge is the short supply of high-quality teachers. In many countries, teachers don’t know the subjects they are tasked with teaching. A recent World Bank study of seven African countries found that nearly a quarter of primary school teachers cannot subtract double-digit numbers and one-third of the teachers cannot multiply double-digit numbers. Teachers also lack pedagogical skills to better transmit knowledge to students: the same study found that less than 10 percent of teachers deploy best practices in their teaching.
The report Great Teachers: How to Raise Student Learning in Latin America and the Caribbean describes how teacher absenteeism, poor preparation, low skill level and pay, and weak school leadership deprive students of a quality education in the region.
Successful education systems have teachers who are equipped with what they need to teach effectively and who are motivated to do their best. Ensuring this requires, first, that policies and systems designed to support teachers focus on improving what is happening in the classroom, and second, that there are human resource policies to develop a teacher workforce equipped and motivated to ensure learning. Teachers must be engaged and have the right skills and professional development opportunities to be effective. More importantly, they and society must internalize the immense responsibility teachers have and the immense impact teachers have on the young lives they interact with every day.
As governments across the world look to increase student learning, supporting teachers and giving them the right tools is a critical first step. The World Bank Group is working with countries to reform teacher professional development programs so that every classroom has a competent, empowered, and motivated teacher.