Teacher attrition key to global education targets

The world still needs four million teachers to achieve the United Nations goal of universal primary education by 2015. That goal may be extended to 2030, in which case the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, or UIS, predicts we will need 27.3 million teachers – a shortage of crisis proportions.

The most obvious response is to suggest we train more teachers. However, that ignores the very real fact that teaching has a high attrition rate. UIS estimates indicate that attrition accounts for 65% (2.6 million) of the 2015 gap, and 87.5% (23.9 million) of the 2030 gap.

These projected deficits indicate a need for a separate global goal to reduce teacher attrition.

Without addressing this major driver of the teacher shortage, millions of children across the globe will miss out on acquiring literacy skills. They will also be less likely to have healthy children, to find well-paid work, challenge cultural prejudices, become active citizens and propel their communities and countries towards better futures.

Teacher attrition in the United States

The United States is a good example of a country where attrition is a greater problem than recruitment.

Education International estimates that 150,000 new teachers are being trained each year, yet within the first five years of service, half of them quit. Annually a half a million teachers either move or leave the profession, costing the United States up to US$2.2 billion.

From the learner’s perspective, the disproportionately high attrition rates in high-need schools incur the serious cost of a reduced capacity to ensure equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all.

Attrition in the US is a complex phenomenon.

In addition to concerns over working conditions and work-life balance, a lack of training and support during the first five years of teaching represent major reasons why teachers leave the profession. Perceptions of ineffectiveness are often cited as reasons for leaving the profession.

For those who stay, a number of teachers achieve lower levels of student attainment in their first three years, reinforcing concerns about students’ access to equitable quality education.

Attrition for experienced teachers is not the same as for early stage teachers. A lack of career pathways causes some effective teachers to leave the learners who need their expertise.

This movement of effective teachers away from classroom teaching into administrative duties or other fields also impacts on the quality of teacher support, because pre-service and early stage teachers lose access to potential mentors.

The Chicago Dialogue

During International Education Week 2014, National Louis University and GEMS World Academy Chicago agreed to convene the Chicago Dialogue to provide a forum to discuss the challenges of preparing teachers for the post-2015 era.

Day one of the Chicago Dialogue included a workshop on Teacher Effectiveness Maps, which were generated by teachers in New Zealand and Chicago and used to assist attendees with their efforts to improve teacher effectiveness and academic achievement levels at their schools.

Participants had the opportunity to assume the role of ‘teacher leaders’ by collaborating with a teacher educator and using their professional judgement to generate a Teacher Effectiveness Map.

Participants were introduced to the TACTICS Framework to build their capacity as ‘teacher leaders’. This process involves Targeting relevant outcomes, Analysing best practice, Clarifying environmental considerations, Translating best practice, Interpreting resulting outcomes, Commenting on transformations and Selecting next steps.

At the end of the session participants were encouraged to share their new knowledge with their ‘master teachers’ to support continuous improvement among ‘professional teachers’, ‘novice teachers’ and ‘residents’ working at the school.

Addressing attrition as an act of global citizenship

Board members from the International Council on Education for Teaching and the Global Coalition for Change joined National Louis University and GEMS World Academy Chicago in Chicago to share their views at the dialogue.

Collectively these groups consider addressing teacher attrition a form of global citizenship. This view involves using technology to discover new ways of collaborating around the shared purpose of addressing teacher attrition by improving teacher effectiveness.

David Perrin, CEO of the Global Coalition for Change, said that focusing on ‘discovering others’ and ‘experiencing shared purpose’ is UNESCO’s version of global citizenship, which is useful to guide our efforts to build better futures worldwide.

Share your views

Teachers must play a central role in the proposed global goal for ensuring equitable, quality education and lifelong learning for all by 2030.

Advocating for a teacher attrition target in the post-2015 period and working to improve teacher effectiveness are two strategies for ensuring we have enough teachers to teach the traditional and lifelong learners of the post-2015 era.

Given the scale of the challenge and the importance of the outcome, those setting the post-2015 agenda need to hear the voices of those who will be working at achieving the targets.

The Chicago Declaration creates an avenue for stakeholders from around the world to share their views.

Your comments, along with the perspectives of the delegates of the dialogue, will be personally presented to key UNESCO officials during the pan-European and North-American States Conference on education post-2015 scheduled to be held at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France, in February 2015.

What do you have to say about the teachers we need for the post-2015 era?

* James O’Meara is director of program analysis and development at National Louis University’s National College of Education, Chicago, USA. He is the organiser of the Global Education First Conference, as well as being an elected member to the UNESCO Non-Governmental Organisation Liaison Committee and an invited member of the UNESCO International Taskforce on Teachers for EFA – Education for All.