By Charles McIntyre, IBIS Capital
Dire predictions abound for the acute shortage of teachers that we will face in the years to come. Well publicised data from UNESCO has stated that by 2030, 25.8 million teachers will need to have been recruited to provide every child with primary education. One thing we can pretty much know for certain, it is not going to happen.
Where does that leave us? In our view, the answer lies in improving the quality and effectiveness of the teachers we do have. This may sound like tinkering around the edges but in emerging markets, where teacher demand is the greatest, the approach is highly relevant. The World Bank arranged surprise visits to classrooms across seven sub-Saharan African countries and found that in nearly half of them, the teacher was absent. Where there are teachers, their subject knowledge is strikingly low. Approximately a quarter of teachers fail simple tasks such as subtracting two-digit numbers amongst maths teachers.
The challenge is how to teach the teachers and provide them with the resources to be effective. In a world where government budgets are constrained, the ability to expand the number of teachers and their training is limited. Here there is a role for technology, not as a replacement but in support. For example, this year’s winner of the EdTechX Ecosystem event in South Africa was Paper Video, which provides step-by-step video support linked to curriculum coursework. The videos can be streamed or downloaded for use in areas where there’s no service coverage. As Chris Mills, co-founder of Paper Video said “Imagine how powerful it would be if the exact video that a student need was embedded in the context in which they were already learning…at every point they could possibly get stuck!”
There are also models of direct assistance such as those of Tusome in Kenya, which provides teachers and administrators with pedagogical skills in critical areas of reading instruction. They have already helped train every lower primary school teacher in 24,136 schools in Kenya!
This is no mean achievement, but the interesting part is that they are collecting real-time learner performance data. This data provides huge insight into what is working and where. But it also provides accountability and so helps address issues such as absenteeism.
The challenges of teachers and technology is not just an issue for emerging markets, but also for developed markets. The increasing adoption of technology in the classroom leads to a need for appropriate CPD training support. Earlier this year the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) results for 2018 were released. One of the biggest demands from teachers in the OECD was for ICT skills for teaching. Between 2013 and 2018, Finland, Iceland and Sweden are among the countries showing the highest increase in the share of teachers using digital technologies to support student learning. Not unsurprisingly the same countries displayed the highest increase in teachers participating in ICT training. So to state the obvious, if you are not able to train the teachers it is difficult to introduce technology effectively into the classroom.
Our call is for governments and innovators to respond to this teacher training need. We live in a world where currently the student enters the classroom with more knowledge about tech than the person who is about to teach them. Unless we can teach the teachers to become masters of this new tech universe, there is little hope that we can educate the planet.