It is a paradox: as the importance of education for knowledge- and information-based societies grows, the world is facing a shortage of qualified teachers. Moreover, according to some international estimates, 18 million new teachers will be needed over the next decade to meet the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015 as stated in the MDGs and by the Education for All movement. To fulfil these demands, countries are increasingly using “contract teachers”, particularly in French-speaking countries of West and Central Africa. Who are these “contract teachers” and what are the implications of their growing presence? Alec Fyfe, author of the ILO working paper “The use of contract teachers in developing countries: trends and impact” discusses this issue with ILO Online.
ILO Online: What is a contract teacher?
Alec Fyfe: Contract teachers represent a broad and varied category. They include volunteers, community teachers, community helpers, volunteer parents, and any kind of “para teachers”. In general, contract teachers have lower qualifications (lower secondary education or less) and are employed under less favourable terms than regular teachers. They are not civil servants or their equivalent and, in most cases, their contracts are limited to one or two years, usually with the possibility of renewal.
What employment conditions do they face?
Alec Fyfe: Salaries tend to be considerably lower than civil service or their equivalent teachers, from less than one-half to less than one-quarter on average, and they rarely enjoy the same employment or labour rights. Few belong to teachers’ unions or other organizations. In some countries, the only way to become a regular teacher is to work as a contract teacher first, while in others, contract teachers are often filling official vacancies. The regulation of contract teachers differs between countries and, in some cases, this is left to local communities rather than public authorities. In short, contract teachers are low-cost and often non-professional.
Why is the trend toward using contract teachers growing?
Alec Fyfe: Contract teachers have been used to meeting a range of objectives from increasing access to education, to providing a source of youth employment. And indeed, they have played a critical role in expanding access to the hard-to-reach populations in rural and remote areas where teachers are usually least attracted or where there are not enough pupils to open a regular school. These hard-to-reach populations are often ethnic minorities or other poor communities. In Cambodia for example, contract teachers have enabled schooling to be provided in some remote, post-conflict areas serving ethnic minorities.
Now, in developing and some developed countries, education authorities have increasingly turned to a policy of hiring “contractual” teachers as a low-cost alternative to meeting chronic shortages in recruiting. The use of contract teachers has emerged as a solution to countries perceiving themselves caught between a rock and a hard place – facing the pressure to raise enrolments in line with the 2015 goal of Education For All and severe budgetary constraints.
Do these “precarious” contracts have a negative impact?
Alec Fyfe: Institutionalizing the practice of contract teachers with little or no career or professional development prospects and considerably less pay and training than certified teachers has serious implications for the quality of education and the status of teachers. Diluting the quality of the teaching profession can result in a lower-level of education. Some studies also warn that the increased turnover of qualified contract teachers would most likely lead to a decline in the quality of these para-professionals, with consequent negative effects on pupil performance in the long run. Moreover, recent experience has shown that reaching the hard-to-reach (the key challenge in achieving Education For All) comes at substantially higher costs. Contract teachers have been successful as a short-term response, as part of targeted policies to increase access, but often with quality trade-offs that lead to hidden costs.
Is there a way out of what many see as a “quality versus quantity” dilemma?
Alec Fyfe: There is, as the ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers (1966) states, a need to solve the problem of teacher shortages in the long-run, through specific measures allowing for the up-grading and eventual integration of unqualified teachers into the regular teaching force as part of a more systematic policy of phasing out such “teachers” within a fixed period. At the same time, contract teachers, like all teachers, must have the necessary education, training and support. A system of modular training would fit with a strategy, as in Senegal, where contract teaching is seen as a way of entering the teaching profession.
However, if contract teaching is to be seen as an “alternative path” into the profession, then the right incentives, training and promotion opportunities need to be in place to ensure the selection and retention of the most competent teachers.
There are no short cuts to quality in education. Quality may cost more, but it pays off in the long run. In the first place, countries have to invest sufficiently in education and training: the ILO supports a benchmark of 6% GDP. And teachers are at the heart of quality improvements.
This is the sense of a joint statement issued by the ILO, UNESCO, UNDP, UNICEF and Education International for World Teachers’ Day 2007. Policy solutions to shortages that increase teacher workload, especially if teaching support is already poor, that lower teacher training standards, and that rely on hiring large numbers of poorly trained contract teachers with little job security, further lower the status of the teaching profession, leave teachers ill-equipped to cope with the realities of the classroom and result in a loss of professional motivation. The Message reaffirms the need for continued cooperation in making “the right choices so that teachers are recruited, trained, and supported in ways that lead to a motivated, effective teaching force, able to contribute to our shared goal of achieving quality education for all children.”