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World Teachers Day

Teachers struggle to be top of the class

Teachers face severe challenges in different parts of the world and are still under pressure to produce results. As the profession marks World Teachers Day, two teachers working thousands of miles apart tell their stories.

Feature | 05 October 2012
GENEVA (ILO News) – Amina* has been teaching for four years and she feels frustrated every day she goes into the government school where she works in Arusha, Northern Tanzania.

“We receive a small salary of between US$ 120 – 190 a month, and when we are in the classroom we have a lot of challenges,” she said. “There are very few teaching materials; we have a big number of students in the class and there is no library. When you are posted to go to the interior, there is no water or electricity.”

There are very few teaching materials; we have a big number of students in the class and there is no library."
She is one of only four science teachers in her 1,070-pupil school and teaches classes of between 70 and 80 students.

“I teach chemistry and biology but the students don’t like the subjects. They think it is very difficult. We don’t have a laboratory or equipment or teaching materials. It is difficult for a teacher to give encouragement in such big classes. They don’t manage to do the work and their performance is not good.

“Very few girls take science. They say it is a very difficult subject and due to the lack of teachers they all run to arts subjects.”

Another major problem for teachers in Tanzania is the low status they have in society, according to Amina.

“Teachers are not respected in Tanzania because the teaching profession is seen as a last resort. I enjoy teaching but the money is not enough for my family,’ she said.

“They should increase the teaching materials and laboratory equipment in schools. Even the number of schools should increase so that there would be smaller class sizes. Then, teachers would be able to manage the classroom.”

Frozen pay, disadvantaged children, pressure for results

Valerie* is the headmistress of a primary school in East London’s Hackney, one of the most deprived parts of Great Britain. Even though thousands of miles and a different reality separate her from Amina, the challenges Valerie faces are not that different.

Her US$ 2.4 million budget covering pupil expenditure has been cut by three per cent. The buildings’ budget has been slashed from US$ 43,600 to 9,700 and her teaching staff have not had a pay rise for the last two years.

Ninety per cent of the students at the school speak English as a second language. Many are classified as ‘special needs’. 
We haven’t got the resources, in terms of teachers, to support the most needy children."

Before the cuts, the school was able to secure funding for disadvantaged pupils, for ethnic minorities and for those with behavioural difficulties. It included money for one-to-one tuition for those children who needed catch-up lessons. That money has now gone.

“We haven’t got the resources, in terms of teachers, to support the most needy children, so we have to put them into the big mainstream classes because we haven’t got the catch-up programmes running any more. We don’t have the money to do the interventions so there’s more pressure on the school and the children because with the whole class it’s just more difficult,” Valerie explained.

“Yet we are expected to try and get the same results without the extra resources we had before,” she said.

The experiences of Amina and Valerie are examples of what ILO’s Director-General Guy Ryder has described as a profession “under siege”.

“In many countries there are simply not enough teachers. In the wake of the economic crisis, the number of students in each classroom has gone up but funding for support services and materials for schools has often dropped,” he said in a video message for World Teachers Day .

Speaking of public sector funding cuts, ILO senior economist, Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead added: “Austerity packages have been leading to serious cuts in public expenditures, and in jobs and wages in the public sector.”

“In this process, the teaching profession has been badly affected and we already can see the effects on working conditions of teachers but also the effects on public services in this sector, with fewer teachers for more students, lower quality of programmes, etc. By extension the most disadvantaged groups who they serve are affected. In the current reforms, governments need to consider the future role of public services for the economy and for society.”

* Not her real name.

World Teachers Day is marked on October 5, in commemoration of the adoption of the ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers, 1966. The slogan for this year is, “Take a stand for teachers”.
The 11th Session of the Joint ILO/UNESCO Committee of Experts on the Application of the Recommendations concerning Teaching Personnel (CEART) will take place at ILO’s headquarters on October 8-12.