In our first blog, I shared with you our vision to transform teaching and learning across the African continent. Our initial hypotheses have invariably been disproven as we faced challenges and heard the voices of teachers, entrepreneurs and policy makers. In this blog, I want to share our evolving understanding of the educator workforce context, and why we believe current approaches aren’t going to be enough. More of the same is not what we need. What got us here, won’t get us there!

Educator shortage: a leaky bucket

According to recent calculations by the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 (hosted by UNESCO), sub-Saharan Africa will need to recruit over 15 million teachers by 2030. The narrative is consistent with country-level reports in South Africa, Kenya, and Ghana, to name a few. The advocacy brief from the Task Force highlights many root causes including growing enrolment, insufficient number of (quality) graduates from teacher training institutions, and high attrition within the profession.

The reality is obviously layered and nuanced. It has a human dimension that is lost when describing systemic failures that impact millions, including learners and parents. I’d like to focus on three trends that are symptomatic of these failures:

  1. 35% of teachers do not have a minimal teacher qualification. Our inability to grow the educator workforce has had unintended consequences, a steady decline in the proportion of teachers that have a minimum qualification to teach. Obviously, this has an impact on the quality of the learning for students. The decline also created a “second-class” of educators, primarily female, who play a crucial role in classrooms, but lack the support to improve their practice and have few options for increased mobility.
  2. Insufficient seats, low graduation rates: Despite the unattractiveness of the profession, there are still more applicants than actual seats for teacher training; a reality across all higher education programmes.The tragedy is that those who actually gain a seat have an abysmal graduation rate (less than 30% in South Africa); the majority dropping out due to having to balance the costs of doing a full-time degree (tuition, data, transport, etc.) with having to earn a living to support their families (and pay for the degree). (P.S. We haven’t talked about the quality of the programmes)
  3. High attrition rates for those in the profession: Beyond their initial training, educators are often left to their own devices with limited induction programming, and few continuing professional development opportunities, mentoring programmes, peer support networks, and investments in well-being, occupational health and safety. There just aren’t enough incentives for teachers to commit to those limited opportunities; no way for them to demonstrate competency, grow their skills, further their careers (and increase their financial mobility).

It’s a leaky bucket across a broken educator journey.

A fragmented approach to a systemic challenge

Across the public, private and social sectors, there are vibrant, exciting, innovative, and pointed interventions addressing these challenges. It would be too hard (and unfair because we’d miss so many) to list all those that have inspired us. Nevertheless, there is a hard truth that connects our collective struggle to scale or sustain interventions: our interventions might have (some) impact in classrooms but we almost never improve the social and career mobility of educators. That’s the hard truth! And without this crucial link, interventions will continue to depend on (too often fickle – again, hard truth) donor or third-party funding.

This is true of socially focused ventures (like ours) who can’t expect teachers to pay for programming. It is true of educator-focused ed-tech start-ups (like ours) who search for sustainable business models because they can’t demonstrate the type of “value-add” educators will pay for. It is true for many progressive policy makers who struggle with the tension between funder and educator priorities.

Teacher training institutions have a crucial asset that provides a path to a solution: credentials that teachers and regulators care about, and can turbocharge their mobility. They are sadly saddled with funding challenges, bureaucracies, complex regulatory frameworks and an inability to imagine beyond their programming. Entry barriers to new institutions (like ours) accentuate the lack of pressure to innovate on these incumbents.

Ultimately, this reliance on (limited) donor or government funding creates a zero-sum game in an ecosystem that could benefit from more coordination, more cooperation and more integration. It incentivizes institutional (and individual) egos (like ours) over cumulative impact. It disincentivizes bold ideas and innovation.

We believe that the answer is not more of the same. We do not need more (or the same) organizations doing more of what is being done already. We need a paradigm shift. We need to reimagine what is possible. What got us here, won’t get us there! 

In our next blog on the Ideas Series, we will explore draft sketches for this paradigm shift and how we hope to contribute to it.

Alim Ladha is the Founder and CEO of Instill Education; Tom Parry is co-founder and Director of Development

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