Teacher Shortages in Sub-Saharan Countries

A brief glance at the Projected total teacher recruitment needed by 2030 map (Global teacher shortage, 2014) is enough to provide a bleak outlook for the future of universal primary education around the world. A wide array of countries for which data are available will have teacher shortages in the next 15 years or so; some countries are expected to close the teacher shortage gap, while others may not be so fortunate. UNESCO calls this a “chronic” (Global teacher shortage, 2014, para. 1) lack of teachers.

Shortage Of Teachers

The goal of universal primary education by 2015 (United Nations, 2000) will unfortunately not be achieved, and as a result countries that had a lot of ground to make up by that date will be left further behind in educational initiatives after that date. There have been recent proposals to shift the target date for universal primary education to 2030, in a move designed to give struggling nations more time and to serve as an incentive for them to avoid taking steps that may not be in the best interest of the child or the advancement of education (UNESCO, 2014c). For instance, in an attempt to accelerate teacher hiring in pursuit of the 2015 goal, many countries have resorted to a tactic that is sure to backfire: standards are being lowered and new teachers are not being trained appropriately (Global teacher shortage, 2014). UNESCO estimates that about four million teachers would have needed to be recruited worldwide in order to achieve the 2015 goal; if the target date were to be shifted to 2030, that number would increase significantly to 27.3 million (UNESCO, 2014c).

If three of the four BRICS countries for which data are available (Russia, India, and China; data for Brazil and South Africa are unavailable) are excluded from a survey of worldwide teacher shortages, it becomes obvious that there is a dire need for teachers in sub-Saharan Africa (Global teacher shortage, 2014). The BRICS countries may be excluded from this analysis because they are emergent economic powerhouses that may not have as much difficulty as other nations in raising the necessary funds for hiring millions of new teachers by 2030 (Ioana-Cristina & Gheorghe, 2014). Sub-Saharan countries have also experienced extraordinary growth in recent years; however, their economic and development indicators will still lag those of other regions in coming years (Sub-Saharan, 2014). For example, despite a sharp rise in completion rates, these nations will still account for two-thirds of the total teacher needs in the world by 2030 (UNESCO, 2014c). A few sub-Saharan countries are expected to close the gap by 2015 (e.g. Liberia, Cameroon, and Mauritania), while others are expected to achieve primary universal education by 2030 (e.g. Niger, Mozambique, Congo, Zambia, and Rwanda). But several other countries are not expected to achieve universal primary education by 2030, taking instead many more years to come close to reaching that goal. Gambia, Uganda, Nigeria, and Eritrea are among such countries (UNESCO, 2014c).

Reasons For The Shortage Of Teachers

The economies of sub-Saharan nations are very small when compared to other regions, especially Western Europe and North America; even when compared to Latin America or Southeast Asia, economic development numbers are not impressive (Amayo & Urhoghide, 2011). The lack of economic development has direct consequences that impact public funding of educational initiatives, as authorities must choose between funding additional teachers or improving the country’s infra-structure that provides food, water, and other basic necessities for survival (Omwami & Keller, 2010). This creates a dilemma that is easily solved by those in charge by choosing the basic necessities (e.g. food, water) over what is considered not to be as essential (e.g. teachers, schools). UNESCO (2014c) estimates that sub-Saharan countries will need to invest an additional $5.2 billion per year in order to hire additional teachers who are needed by 2020. If the status quo prevails, sub-Saharan countries will not have the resources needed in order to reach the United Nations’ (2000) goals.

Many reasons have been cited for the relative economic underperformance of the region, but issues with governance (e.g. corruption, bribery, lack of transparency) seem to have a special place in explaining why African countries—sub-Saharan nations in particular—have experienced dismal economic growth and failed to develop the institutions necessary for progress (Fayissa & Nsiah, 2013). Other reasons that may help explain the African difficulties include: technological deficiencies (Ebomoyi, 2011), lack of a skilled labor force (Austin, 2008), and excessive taxation (Botlhole, Asafu-Adjaye, & Carmignani, n.d.). All of these factors have direct negative consequences for education in the region, as funding is limited and may not be administered in a transparent and effective way, technological advances have not quite become as widespread as in other regions of the world, and qualified individuals are scarce.

Addressing The Shortage Of Teachers

The lack of a qualified workforce is a major factor in teacher shortage in sub-Saharan countries. Even when their economies see growth spurs and funding becomes available, qualified laborers are hard to find (Britz, Lor, Coetzee, & Bester, 2006). This would seem to be a vicious circle, as teachers are needed to prepare a qualified workforce and a qualified workforce is needed in order for qualified teachers to be recruited. Many sub-Saharan nations have chosen to break this vicious circle by hiring unqualified teachers (Global teacher shortage, 2014); they have decided to lower standards in an attempt to both lower costs (i.e. training and professional development) and fill positions that are hard to fill.

The impact of this policy could be disastrous for the region, as sub-Saharan nations will need to hire 6.2 million teachers by 2030, 2.3 million of whom will be hired for newly created positions (Global teacher shortage, 2014). That is an astounding number; if most of these positions are to be filled with unqualified individuals, the quality of education in sub-Saharan Africa could suffer for generations to come. Attempts have been made, with limited success, to address the issue of under-qualified teachers. For instance, Moon (2007) demonstrated how school-based teacher development in the region has played an important role in making Education For All a reachable goal, but also criticized the lack of research and technological foundations for local educational efforts.

Another possible solution for sub-Saharan countries in their efforts to hire qualified teachers may involve a greater participation of women in the workforce. UNESCO’s (2014b) eAtlas of Teachers clearly shows that sub-Saharan nations have lower rates of women serving as teachers when compared to countries in other regions with similar needs. When “female teachers can make classrooms seem like safer, more inviting places for girls and young women, encouraging them to continue their education,” (UNESCO, 2014b, Section 4, para. 1), it would seem logical that more female teachers would have a positive impact on creating a qualified labor force.

Some sub-Saharan countries have chosen to address the issue of unqualified teachers from a different perspective: Niger, Mali, Benin, Gambia, Uganda and others have hired new teachers on a temporary contract basis (UNESCO, 2014c). This has allowed some countries to “significantly reduce their pupil-teacher ratios” (p. 7); the pupil-teacher ratio should not exceed 40 students per teacher (Murphy & Wolfenden, 2013), and some of these countries had numbers that far superseded the minimum requirements for an ideal student learning experience. But hiring teachers on a contract basis may have negative implications as well, especially in relation to quality: the teachers are still not fully qualified, and the uncertainty of a temporary contract may inhibit personal investment in professional development (Akyeampong, Lussier, Pryor, & Westbrook, 2013).

UNESCO has become deeply involved in addressing the issue of teacher shortages in sub-Saharan Africa via its Teacher Training Initiative For Sub-Saharan Africa (TTISSA), a program comprised of several initiatives that seek to “improve access, quality and equality of education through improving the quality and quantity of the teaching force in the region” (UNESCO, 2014a, para. 1). TTISSA has enlisted the help of several partners, including: African Union, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), African Development Bank (ADB), Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Commonwealth Secretariat, Programme for sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA), and The World Bank. TTISSA’s initiatives have resulted in the improvement of teachers through the improvement of their training institutions (UNESCO, 2014a).

Another policy used by sub-Saharan countries in addressing teacher shortage is the involvement of teachers’ unions (Sinyolo, 2007). By involving the unions in educational policy development, governments have allowed the unions to gain the respect of many stakeholders and involve yet other institutions in the training and development of new teachers. This partnership has provided “a mechanism through which teachers can be more effectively represented and consulted on the issues, programs, and policies that affect them all” (Mulkeen, Chapman, DeJaeghere, Leu, 2007). According to Sinyolo (2007), the involvement of unions in educational policy is a good idea and an important factor for the future of teacher recruitment in sub-Saharan Africa, but it can also become a liability if unions were to become too involved in the political process.


Teacher shortage has been a longstanding problem in the African region known as sub-Sahara. This issue has been brought to the limelight by the region’s failure to reach the goal of universal primary education, as proposed by the United Nations (2000). One of the reasons why this goal has not been achieved stems from the lack of qualified teachers that could help reduce the pupil-teacher ratios and create a better learning experience for students (Mulkeen, Chapman, DeJaeghere, & Leu, 2007). Several initiatives have been adopted that have had a positive impact on the problem; but much more work still needs to be done in order to close the gap between the number of teachers needed and the number of qualified teachers available. Several possible solutions have been presented that, together, can effectively improve the educational context in sub-Saharan regions: greater involvement of teachers’ unions, continued investment in partnerships by UNESCO, limited temporary contracts for under-qualified teachers, and the training and hiring of more female teachers.



Akyeampong, K., Lussier, K., Pryor, J., & Westbrook, J. (2013). Improving teaching and learning of basic math and reading in Africa: Does teacher preparation count?. International Journal Of Educational Development, 33(Educating the poorest and ideas of poverty), 272-282. doi:10.1016/j.ijedudev.2012.09.006

Amayo, K. O., & Urhoghide, P. I. (2011). Exploring sub-Saharan African and East Asian economic growth and development dynamics: A comparative analysis. Global Education Journal, (4), 21-47.

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Botlhole, T., Asafu-Adjaye, J., & Carmignani, F. (n.d). Natural resource abundance, institutions and tax revenue mobilisation in sub-Sahara Africa. South African Journal Of Economics, 80(2), 135-156.

Britz, J., Lor, P., Coetzee, I., & Bester, B. (2006). Africa as a knowledge society: A reality check. International Information And Library Review, 3825-40. doi:10.1016/j.iilr.2005.12.001

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Global teacher shortage. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.uis.unesco.org/Education/Pages/global-teacher-shortage.aspx

Ioana-Cristina, S., & Gheorghe, C. (2014). Characteristics of the emerging market economies: BRICS from the perspective of stock exchange. Annals Of The University Of Oradea, Economic Science Series, 23(1), 40-49.

Moon, B. (2007). School-based teacher development in Sub-Saharan Africa: Building a new research agenda. Curriculum Journal, 18(3), 355-371. doi:10.1080/09585170701590007

Mulkeen, A., Chapman, D., DeJaeghere, J., & Leu, E. (2007). Recruiting, retaining, and retraining secondary school teachers and principals in sub-Saharan Africa. Washington, DC: The World Bank.

Murphy, P., & Wolfenden, F. (2013). Developing a pedagogy of mutuality in a capability approach: Teachers’ experiences of using the Open Educational Resources (OER) of the teacher education in sub-Saharan Africa (TESSA) programme. International Journal Of Educational Development, 33(Educating the poorest and ideas of poverty), 263-271. doi:10.1016/j.ijedudev.2012.09.010

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UNESCO. (2014b). UNESCO eAtlas of teachers. Retrieved from http://www.tellmaps.com/uis/teachers/

UNESCO. (2014c). Wanted: Trained teachers to ensure every child’s right to primary education. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002299/229913E.pdf

United Nations Millennium declaration. (2000, September 8). Retrieved from http://www.un.org/millennium/declaration/ares552e.htm



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