Qualified teachers are essential to quality education for all

By Dianne Woloschuk
October 27, 2014

Though both of my parents loved learning and valued school highly, neither of them had the opportunity to finish school. My father left school after completing Grade 8 so that he could work on the farm. After that, he took correspondence courses in mechanics and taught himself. My mother finished her Grade 11 before going on to become an X-ray technician. When I was little, my parents continually reminded me about the value of education. They surrounded my sister and me with books, music, and games. They taught us to be grateful for the opportunities we had to experience a high quality publicly-funded elementary and secondary education, and then to pursue post-secondary studies at a relatively low cost. Certainly, our country benefits greatly in terms of health, economic growth, and prosperity from our publicly-funded public education system. As the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) noted in their Education at a Glance 2014 Report, for children, having well-educated parents translates into better health, educational, social, and economic outcomes. For nations, a well-educated population is the foundation of a vibrant society whose economic and social benefits are shared among all citizens.

Unfortunately, there are still about 55 million children in the world who have either limited opportunities to go to school or none at all. Since 2000, when the Millennium Development Goal for education was set that every child complete school to the end of upper elementary, progress has been made. Many countries have made significant investments in their education systems, but the road to universal, high quality, publicly-funded public education is still fraught with daunting obstacles. According to UNESCO Policy Paper 15, dated October 2014, countries working to extend universal elementary education to all children must attend to school construction and the provision of adequate learning materials to ensure that children receive an education of good quality. And, that is not all - the most pressing challenge UNESCO has identified is the shortage of qualified teachers. Indeed, this shortage is so grave that it threatens the progress that’s already been made. The UNESCO Policy Paper notes that replacing qualified teachers who are retiring or leaving the profession, as well as recruiting qualified teachers to meet the added need, will require that governments invest heavily in teacher education programs and professional development supports. The temptation has been to simply recruit people to teach and worry about educating them as teachers later. This practice resembles recruiting people with some schooling as engineers, with the idea that they will learn on the job about how to build bridges. This approach has been thoroughly discredited, since children being instructed by unqualified people simply do not learn.

Nevertheless, the challenge to governments striving to meet the Education for All goals cannot be underestimated. UNESCO notes that Burkina Faso, Mali and Mozambique would need to direct at least 10% of their expected upper secondary school graduates into primary teacher education programs to achieve universal primary education by 2020. The shortage of qualified teachers also translates into extremely high class sizes – as many as 100 children, or more, per qualified teacher – which, again, mitigates against children’s learning success.

These key points from both the OECD and UNESCO align with the Education International Unite for Quality Education campaign’s emphasis on quality teaching. Governments must give priority in spending to high-quality teacher pre-service education programs, support on-going professional development, the necessary recruitment of teachers to reduce class sizes, and appropriate salaries in order to retain qualified teachers. In this way, in this world, we may finally see a generation of children who, unlike their parents, have all been to school, have learned to read, write, and do math, have enjoyed learning about music and art, and have learned about the responsibilities of citizenship. The day that happens cannot come too soon.

In closing, I would like to recognize and thank Dr. Calvin Fraser, Secretary General since 2006, for his years of dedicated service to CTF. Dr. Fraser is retiring at the end of December, 2014. He has worked tirelessly to strengthen CTF and has seen us through the successes and the challenges of our work. Calvin, you will certainly be missed.

At this time, I would also like to introduce Cassandra Hallett, who will assume the duties of Secretary General of CTF on January 1, 2015. Cassandra is currently a Program Officer in CTF’s International Program. She has broad experience in public education and teacher organizations throughout Canada and internationally. I look forward to working with Cassie on the way forward for CTF.

Dianne Woloschuk is the President of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

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Perspectives web magazine is published by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), a national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations that represent over 238,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada.

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