Positioning teachers to play a role in the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals

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5 October 2015 is World Teachers’ Day

The world is gearing up for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in education, goal 4 “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all”, will be the main driver. However, to effectively prepare for the attainment of this goal, there ought to be congruence between national policies and practice in teacher education. A look at the national plans of most countries indicates that there is belief and confidence in the role of education in driving economic and social development. Also, the missions set for teacher education indicate a desire to ensure quality teacher education and quality teachers. So, as we celebrate World Teachers’ Day, let us celebrate those countries and governments that invested in teachers in the last decade. In a number of countries, there was a real recognition that teachers are central in the achievement of Education for All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and a number of investments were made in the training of teachers, provision of Continuous Professional Development (CPD), provision of housing for teachers, provision of teaching learning materials to facilitate teaching and learning, support supervision for quality education and in the enhancement of management skills for head teachers and principals. These efforts paid off and a lot of progress was made with more children accessing all levels of education. According to the EFA Global Monitoring Report (UNESCO 2015: xii, 6),

  • “The primary school net enrolment ratio was 84% in 1999 and is estimated to reach 93% in 2015
  • Net enrolment ratios improved significantly, rising at least 20 percentage points from 1999 to 2012 in 17 countries, 11 of which were in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The report also adds that “the largest absolute increases in the primary adjusted net enrolment ratio were observed in sub-Saharan Africa (from 59% in 1999 to 79% in 2012) and South and West Asia (from 78% to 94%)”. These are great milestones.

However, as mentioned in my last blog, a number of challenges still remain and it is evident therefore that to achieve SDG number 4 ‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all’ teacher education will need a greater commitment to practical implementation of national plans and polices; and a higher degree of creativity and innovation in the training of teachers and in the classrooms. Transformation in teacher education will therefore be vital at all the three levels of teacher preparation, recruitment and retention.

At the teacher preparation level, teacher training institutions will need to revisit their programmes, both the content and methodology; and will need to create stronger and more effective programmes (Darling-Hammond 2006). According to her, the three elements of these programmes should be “coherence and integration among courses – intensely supervised clinical work integrated with course work using pedagogies linking theory and practice, and closer, proactive relationships with schools.” All courses included in an education programmes should therefore be seen as components of a whole and should be presented in a much more coherent and integrated manner to ensure the teacher benefits from all the courses. Also, to ensure theory is closely linked to practice, clinical practice should be well planned and executed taking full advantage of linkages and collaboration with schools. This component is sometimes seen as costly and the temptation to make this shorter is sometimes high; but institutions can continually explore more school-based and cost effective models.

In addition, we ought to bear in mind the growing demand for a new set of skills for school leavers; skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, innovation and adaptability. New skills require new teaching styles and this needs to be addressed for both pre-service and in-service teachers because as UNESCO (2014) adds, in nearly a third of the countries in the world, ‘the challenge of training existing teachers is worse than that of recruiting and training new teachers’. So, for teachers to support children acquire these skills, they must also have the same skills. Teacher preparation ought to therefore support teacher trainees acquire these skills while at the same time preparing the teachers to impart these in the children. According to UNESCO (2014:5), around 250 million children are not learning basic skills, even though half of them have spent at least four years in school’. One of the reasons for this failure is the quality of teaching and learning the children are being exposed to. Much more attention to teacher preparation is one way of working towards addressing this challenge of poor learning outcomes.

As far as teacher retention is concerned, there are many factors that contribute to retention and this includes conditions of work, career progress, and inadequate pay. Whereas teacher education institutions may not be able to do much about conditions of work and the pay, these institutions can help improve retention by providing relevant Continuous Professional Development (CPD). Teachers can get frustrated when there are changes in school curricula, methodology and technology but they are not prepared to cope with these changes. There is need to remember that CPD is part and parcel of teacher preparation and retention and needs to be well conceived and executed.

So, as we celebrate this year’s Teachers’ Day, and as we position ourselves to help our nations achieve the SDGs, can we all (teacher educators, development partners, supporters and governments) commit ourselves to working towards provision of quality teacher education? Teachers have a huge role in helping nations achieve the SDGs but they need to be prepared and supported to embrace and play this role. Most governments have already imbedded teacher education transformation in the national plans and policies and the hope is that there will be more congruence between policy and practice.

The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) is committed to addressing issues of teacher education and will, in the new six year plan, continue to support teacher education institutions deliver effective learning opportunities for sustainable development. One of the major outcomes that COL will be working towards with partners in this plan, is having more relevant, high quality, pedagogically sound and gender-responsive programmes and learning materials https://www.col.org/programmes/teacher-education.

In conclusion, the future as we work towards the SDGs is full of promise and opportunities; and teachers have a critical role to play, we can help them rise up to this. We owe it to our children to effectively prepare and support teachers as they pour out their hearts to provide education. When we neglect this, we betray our children.

Happy Teachers’ Day!


  1. Darling-Hammond, L. 2006. ‘Constructing 21st-century teacher education’ In Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 57, No. X, Month 2006 1-15. American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
  2. UNESCO, 2014. EFA Global Monitoring Report Teaching and Learning: Achieving quality for all. UNESCO, Paris
  3. UNESCO, 2015 EFA Global Monitoring Report: Education For All 2000-2015 Achievements and challenges. UNESCO, Paris

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