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Quality education for all? We need (more) teachers!

Data insights reveal important teacher shortages in many countries around the world, and declining numbers of vocational education teachers at a time when we need them the most. Policies to improve education quality and outcomes must consider not only students and learners, but also and importantly, teachers.

Education systems are weavers of our social fabric, providing children, youth and adults with knowledge, skills and competencies, and equipping them to face challenges and make positive contributions to their economies and societies. Rapid technological change, demographic shifts, urbanization, and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic, have put enormous pressure on these systems, which must continuously adapt. While much policy attention is given to issues of funding and governance, learning content, delivery methods, and outcomes, not enough attention is given to fundamental actors at the heart of these systems: teachers.

Insights from the ILO Harmonized Microdata Collection reveal that:

  1. There are still countries with important teacher shortages,
  2. The number of vocational education teachers is declining in many countries due to various factors,
  3. Wages of teachers are still well below other professional occupations despite relatively higher growth rates, and
  4. Women, who represent the largest share of primary school and early childhood teachers, are often underrepresented among university and higher education teachers and vocational education teachers.

There are still significant teacher shortages in some regions of the world

Teaching professionals account on average for at least 5 per cent of the national workforce in Northern, Western and Southern Europe, North America, Northern Africa, and the Arab States. The lowest shares of teachers in total employment are in Sub-Saharan Africa – particularly in Central Africa (2.4 per cent), Eastern Africa (2.7 per cent) and Western Africa (3.2 per cent) – and in Central America (2.6 per cent).  While the percentage point differences across regions may not seem substantial, these figures translate into teacher shortages that can be important in many countries, let alone shortages of teachers who are trained, qualified and well-equipped to face context specific challenges. Indeed, the pupil-to-qualified teacher ratio in primary education is significantly higher in the latter subregions (more than 40 on average, compared to an average of approximately 14 or 15 in North America and much of Europe). 

The number of vocational education teachers has declined in many countries

The number of university and higher education teachers, and the number of primary school and early childhood teachers, have increased in most countries over time (looking at the employment growth rates for the longest possible period between 2001-2022 for each country). This reflects higher primary school enrollment and completion rates across the world and generally higher educational attainment among the population. On the other hand, secondary education teachers and vocational education teachers and have seen a decline in employment in 43 per cent and 58 per cent of countries with available data, respectively

These trends hold even when we limit the period of observation to 2019 to control for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was particularly hard on technical and vocational training and education (TVET), where the strong emphasis on work-based learning and acquisition of practical skills made it more difficult to shift to distance learning alternatives. Indeed, vocational education teachers’ employment declined in 2020 and/or 2021 in over 82 per cent of countries with available data, compared to 74 per cent for secondary education teachers, approximately 65-66 per cent for university and higher education and for primary school and early childhood education, and 54 per cent for the ‘other teaching professionals’ category, which includes special needs teachers, other language, arts, or music teachers, and information technology trainers.

A decline in the number of vocational education teachers is alarming, given the widely recognized importance of TVET for productivity enhancement and poverty reduction, and as a means of bolstering the employability and resilience of youth and adults in facing labour market challenges, including through upskilling and reskilling opportunities. This recognition underlies important efforts to reform and revitalize TVET that have been implemented in many countries around the world including Bangladesh, El Salvador and Mongolia, many countries in Africa, and currently underway in many others like Indonesia. The crucial role of TVET for quality education and training, lifelong learning and workforce inclusion is highlighted in several targets of SDG 4.

The negative employment growth rates of TVET teachers in many countries can be linked to several factors – some context specific and others more common across countries. For instance, in Mongolia, a sharp decline in vocational teachers’ employment between 2009 and 2018 is indicative of implementation challenges with the TVET reform process, some elements of which were rolled-back over time. In the Netherlands, a significant decline in vocational teachers’ employment (averaging -9.0 per cent annually between 2011 and 2021) may be partly accounted for by a wave of retirements which had been anticipated due to an ageing teaching workforce in vocational schools, and difficulties recruiting new teachers – a challenge that was identified in several OECD countries. Another reason may be the declining demand for vocational education as more and more youth decide to pursue higher education – also a factor in many countries beyond the Netherlands.

Teaching professionals still earn lower wages than other professionals

In many countries of the world, teacher wages have risen faster than wages of other professional occupations. But this faster growth is partly due to a lower starting point. Therefore, despite some catching-up, teaching professionals still earned lower wages, on average, than workers in other professional occupations in most countries in the latest year for which data are available. Additionally, in many countries, teacher wages tend to increase with educational levels, with primary school and early childhood teachers on one end, secondary and vocational education teachers in the middle, and university and higher education teachers on the other end of the earnings spectrum.

In just over half (54 per cent) of countries with available data, vocational education teachers earned less than secondary school teachers in the latest year for which data are available. Differences across countries may be linked to differences in the structure of the education and training sector. For instance, in many African countries, the shares of teachers employed in public schools are generally lower at the primary school and early childhood levels and even in secondary schools, in comparison with the public share of employment in vocational education and university and higher education, while the opposite is true for most countries in other regions. 

In particular, the share of vocational education teachers employed in public institutions can differ significantly across countries, even within the same region. For instance, in 2022, it was just over 10 per cent in Brazil, approximately 17 per cent in Columbia, 52 per cent in Costa Rica, 54 per cent in Chile, and over 85 per cent in Uruguay. Low shares of teachers in public TVET schools points to the existence of not only private institutes, but also small community-based centers in these countries. In general, ‘public sector wage premiums’ (calculated here as percentage differences between median wages of teachers in public institutions in comparison with teachers in private institutions) are relatively lower for vocational education teachers and university and higher education teachers in comparison with primary school and early childhood education teachers.

The share of female teachers in TVET and tertiary education remains low across the world

While women represent the lion’s share of employment among primary school and early childhood teachers in most countries, they remain underrepresented among university and higher education teachers and among vocational education teachers in many countries. 

This suggests that policies to expand employment opportunities for women at the tertiary education level including in TVET and to encourage/enable women to take up these opportunities can help fill teacher shortage gaps, while also promoting gender equality and inclusion in education. Most importantly, however, these findings suggest that teachers across all levels of education must receive adequate and targeted support, training, and resources to enable them to fulfill their important role.


  • Souleima El Achkar

    Souleima is an economist and labour market information specialist, with expertise in skills development systems. Since 2010, she has been working as a consultant on various projects for the ILO, Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.

    View all posts

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