A good teacher can change a child’s life. Countless writers, artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, campaigners and political leaders can point to a teacher who took an interest in them and set them on the path to great things.
Worldwide, there is large variation across countries in the number of teachers relative to the population. At one extreme, Iceland has 45 teachers for every 1,000 people. At the other extreme, the United Republic of Tanzania has only 2 for every 1,000 people.
When you consider the number of teachers compared to the number of children under 15, the differences are even starker. Denmark can boast more than one teacher for every four pupils. But many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth is highest, struggle to provide one for every 100 or 200 children.
Data compiled by ILOSTAT shows that high-income nations tend to have significantly more teachers than low-income countries – unsurprising given the clear link between education and levels of economic development.
Nordic nations and Switzerland dominate the list of countries with the most teachers. The Russian Federation is the only country in the top 10 that does not rank as high-income.
The number of teachers in a society isn’t necessarily an indicator of the quality of schooling a child will receive. Finland is widely regarded as having one of the best education systems in the world yet has significantly fewer teachers than its Scandinavian neighbours.
With 173 teachers per 1,000 children under 15, the Russian Federation may appear to have an advantage over the US (132) and the UK (122). But the latter countries have larger shares of employed people with high skill levels – 47% for the US and 49% for the UK, compared to 44% in the Russian Federation.
Larger numbers of teachers need to be backed up with equivalent increases in investment in education overall, or there is a risk teachers’ pay will fall.
Analysis by the OECD has shown that pushing solely for smaller class sizes can have the unintended consequence of making teaching a less attractive profession, and that countries are better off focusing on the overall quality of teaching, rather than purely the number of people doing it.
Strong teachers’ organizations are an important factor in ensuring quality is maintained, through better wages, reasonable working hours, and appropriate teacher-pupil ratios. Reinforcing the status and voice of teachers is also an essential part of the strategy to eliminate child labour.
The longer children are kept in school, the better their prospects, and the greater the chance of them finding that one teacher who will be their inspiration.
This World Teacher’s Day on October 5 celebrates the valuable contribution teachers make in educating the world’s young and aims to address some of the issues central for attracting and keeping the brightest minds and young talents in the profession.