This House believes a lack of investment in teachers is the greatest barrier to achieving universal primary education

Millennium Development Goal 2 targeted inequalities in primary education - setting an agenda of equality in opportunities to achieve universal primary education, for girls and boys, by 2015. In response to the development hype enrolment rates have increased across the developing world and disparities in literacy rates narrowed. The target is expected to be met in Northern Africa, by 2015, however, in Sub-Saharan Africa while there have been moderate gains progress has stalled making it questionable whether the target will be made a reality. Over half of the children not in school are in Sub-Saharan Africa (UN, 2013).

Achieving universal primary education has centred on tackling issues on enrolment - particularly gender based inequalities to recognise the equal right to education, completion of primary school, and improving literacy rates. This debate therefore turns to a focus on teachers - a vital resource in achieving and fundamentally sustaining, the goal. Rising protests by teachers, in Tanzania (2012), Zimbabwe (2014), and South Africa (2013), indicates the sense of dissatisfaction amongst current teachers. Further, low student-teacher ratios identify the growing reality of overcrowded schools. Can efforts be placed on encouraging enrolment if the teachers who provide teaching are inadequate, unmotivated, and underfunded?

The scale of the teaching problem requires recognition. The focus is on teachers across the education sector - from primary to universities. This debate returns to discussion on how the right to education can be achieved; and what models of investment need to be encouraged. Currently funds are diverted to building infrastructure and rapid training for teachers, failing to integrate social policy schemes for teachers and ensuring the quality of education for students. 

Social Policy: encouraging teaching careers

UNESCO (2013) report the need for 6.8mn teachers by 2015 for the right to primary education to be achieved. The teaching workforce requires includes both replacements and additional teachers. Africa has a reality of low teacher-student ratios. In 2012, 80 students were reported per teacher in the Central African Republic (World Bank, 2013). Positive schemes are needed to incentivise potential teachers to enter the profession and meet demand.

Careers can be encouraged through multiple paths. For example, providing incentives to study teaching as a profession. Tanzania’s Ministry of Education provides grants to students entering University to study teaching. 


Firstly, encouraging teaching as a employment path does not ensure committed or motivated teachers are gained. Secondly, the problem is advocating ‘universal’ education when the infrastructure does not match. Low teacher ratios per student indicate the need for new buildings, and bigger schools. Facilities need to be improved with space for more classes. Schools need to be designed to enable diverse learning - such as space for IT, games, and public discussions.

The experience of learning is broader, and goes beyond the classroom. Good education is not solely reliant on the teacher, but on what the student is able to engage in and how they can learn to raise new ideas and questions. Investment is therefore required in new schools and universities. 

Teacher training

Investment is required in teacher training to ensure quality control. Teachers need to be provided with qualifications and effective training both technical and theoretical. Teachers need to be introduced to methods on how to interact with students, provoke student debates, and manage large classes. In-service training and pre-teaching training are key.

Countries such as Uganda and Angola[1] have utilised on the job training for teachers, with positive results for teaching quality. In Uganda initiatives, such as INSSTEP[2], provided capacity training to teachers and headteachers. 14,000 secondary school teachers participated between 1994-1999, followed by school inspections to monitor capacity. The ‘mobile-caravan’ approach is making it easier, more feasible, and flexible, to provide training[3].

Additionally, investors and national governments need to provide Model schools, indicating what responsibilities teachers have and enabling knowledge transfer. Model schools can assist in alleviating work pressures for teachers by showing their terms of contract, duties and obligations. Increasingly teachers are expected to fulfil the role of carer, counsellor, and advisers on HIV/AIDs without relevant training.

[1] See further readings: World Bank, 2013.

[2] In-Service Secondary Teacher Education Project.

[3] See further readings: World Bank, 2013.


The issue is not teachers or investment per se, rather the structure of teaching used. The curriculum is focused on passing exams to meet the MDG criteria and get students to the next stage. There remains a need to incorporate the teaching of life skills for potential career options, and encouraging students to engage in innovative thinking and explore interests. UNICEF’s Child-Friendly Education approach is a clear example, whereby the child’s need is the central focus.

Technology is changing teaching, and teacher training needs to be less theoretical; more focused on the subjective needs of the children.

Further, challenges to teacher training are prevalent. For example, not all schools are government owned - with faith bodies, private sector and NGOs establishing schools. The diversity of ownership creates challenges for regulating training provided. By focusing on teaching curriculum the national government can enforce national policy change. 

Incentivising movement so there are teachers where they are needed

Although the extent of rural-urban disparities remains debatable, geographical disparities in living standards and education are articulated across Africa. The location, and provision, of teachers does not always match need.

In Uganda, the universalisation of education has been met with inequities, regionally and across socioeconomic groups, in the quality of education (Hedger et al, 2010). Incentives are required to deploy teachers to districts according to need; and encourage teachers to relocate. For example, awards need to be provided for teachers to move to rural areas, and the development of teacher housing schemes - providing teachers with houses in new locations. 


A positive intervention to tackle geographical disparities in education is by introducing long-distance learning. ICT and technology makes such a reality possible.

Such proposals require institutional change. The capacity of local, and regional, government bodies need to be built to enable decentralisation. Community centres can be used for distance learning, forming schools that are adaptable to the needs of rural children and families. However, for such proposals we need to focus on decentralisation and ensuring good governance amongst local and regional actors.

Social Policy for satisfied teachers

The creation of national social policies which provide secure, and stable, wages for teachers is fundamental. Social policy can make satisfied teachers. A key concern amongst teachers is finance - inadequate wages and insurance. Teacher wages is considerably lower than other formal professions - combining to enforce low morale and occupational motivation as pay is too low to sustain individuals and households (Bennell, 2004). In South Africa an average teaching salary is 19,535 ZAR in contrast to the 28,235 ZAR average granted in all jobs in South Africa (Salary Explorer, 2013).

Further, social policy is required to introduce teacher pension schemes. Pension schemes are provided for workers within the formal employment sector, by various public organisations - including the government and GEPF[1]. However, some national pension schemes are more developed than others and teachers need to be ensured the profession can provide investments for future security. An ageing population only reinforces its importance.

[1] See further readings: GEPF, 2013.


A key concern for government’s education policy is ensuring efficiency in the allocation of resources. Investment is required in management structures - to ensure teachers accept the social contract of responsibility, and duty, to the services provided and enable the efficient allocation of public resources.

Weaknesses have been identified with regards to resources being lost or misused in districts or schools. The rising cases of ‘Ghost teachers’ - teachers who are not real but created to exist on paper - indicates the scope of chaotic management structures and persistent corruption. Resources are being lost through cases of manipulation, whether by teachers or government officials embezzling money. Reports from Sierre Leone, Uganda, and Libya, showcase the concerning reality[1]. Before higher wages can be provided, forgeries need to be resolved. A system needs to be built which enables monitoring to ensure real teachers are paid and found.   

[1] See further readings: All Africa, 2012; The Informer, 2013; and BBC News, 2008.

Teaching begins at home

For the target of universal primary education to be achieved we need to look beyond a narrow education policy. Programs are required to enable teaching at home. The benefits of education need to be accessed nationwide; which will cumulatively encourage children to go to school and participate to do their best. For example, by introducing adult training/education courses to parents and elderly populations, parents are able to assist children at home, and to recognise the benefits of gaining an education. Simply providing better teachers at school fails to recognise the importance of intra-household decisions and life. For universal education the whole population strata needs to be included; and adult courses provided on basic maths, english and science. 


A key concern in achieving the MDG is quality control - regulation is required to do so, and the standard of teaching needs to be monitored; this cannot be done at home. Investing in teachers will ensure basic needs are met.

Teachers are the vital resources to transfer knowledge, and providing universal access to standardised education. Thus direct investment is required in teachers for students well-being. 

Colonial legacies: the issue of language

A fundamental restriction to achieving universal education in several African countries is not teachers, as a resource, but rather the lack of a national language. Colonialism enforced national boundaries, of which remain mismatched to ethnicity and language. African nations remain some of the most diverse in the world. With the exception of Tanzania, whereby Julius Nyerere used policy to create a sense of national unity and language, many African nations placed minimal focus on nationalisation. Around 46 languages are spoken in Zambia.

Such language diversities make universal education difficult. Therefore, presidents such as Paul Kagame, have the right approach of enforcing a national language. 


Proposals for basing education, and teaching, on a universal language raise criticism. Will students be able to ask for assistance at home and amongst their community if the language taught is not understood? Does enforcing a national language return to unequal relations of power - overriding the history and ethnic diversity of said nation? Shouldn’t national governments be more sensitive to local communities and group identities? Finally, what language will be chosen, and how will the decision be made? The implementation of a national language introduces a risk of conflict in unstable countries.

It also needs to be remembered that a national language has to be taught; something which requires investment in teachers.

The complex controls over enrolment

Suggesting investments are required in teachers limits a recognition of the multiple forces creating barriers to achieve a right to education. Universal education is constrained by political, socio-cultural, and economic, structures.

Firstly, gender inequalities in education raise cultural norms of the role of girls in society, and within the domestic-sphere at home. Religious and cultural beliefs mean girls account for 70% of children not attending school. Across Sub-Saharan Africa the economics of child marriage often mean girls leave school or become reluctant to go to school. A positive correlation is found between low education and countries with high rates of child marriage[1]. Niger has the highest rate of child marriage.

Secondly, poverty and hunger act as key restraints in achieving the target. As Mkandawire (2010) argues, development needs to be brought back onto the ‘pro-poor’ agenda. Human capital cannot be developed without a broader focus on social and economic policies that enable development first.

[1] See further readings: Education for Girls, 2013.


Fundamentally, structures cannot be changed without development. Human capital however, provides a means of development. Studies have shown the positive role human capital - a composite measure of education and knowledge - has on a nation’s development.

The AfDB have shown that enhanced human capital amongst Africa’s young population is empowering change - promoting good governance and post-conflict recovery; and intrinsic to economic growth (Diawara, 2011). In other words teachers need investment to educate the youths in order to overcome these barriers to universal education.  

The MDG is the barrier

Significant progress has been made in meeting the MDG in Africa, therefore criticism needs to be raised on the MDG themselves. The MDG are unrealistic, unfair, and the benchmarks set fail to acknowledge progress made (Easterly, 2009).

The barrier to achieving universal education is not a lack of investment, rather inappropriate targets.


Critiquing the foundation of the MDG does not resolve the reality that around 56mn children are still unable to use their right to education (UN, 2013). 


Bennell, P., ‘Teacher Motivation and Incentives in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia’, Knowledge and Skills for Development, ELDIS, Brighton, 2004.

Diawara, M., ‘2012-2016: AfDB’s Human Capital Development Strategy’, AfDB (African Development Bank Group), 2011.

Easterly, W., ‘How the Millenium Development Goals are Unfair to Africa’, World Development, 37, 1, pp 26-35, 2009,

Hedger, E., Williamson, T., Muzoora, T., and Stroh, J. Sector Budget Support in Practice: Education Sector in Uganda, Overseas Development Institute, 2010,

Mkandawire, T., ‘How the New Poverty Agenda Neglected Social and Employment Policies in Africa’, Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 11, 1, pp 37-55, 2010,

Salary Explorer, Salary Survey in South Africa in Teaching/Education, 2013,

World Bank, Pupil-Teacher Ratio, Primary, 2013,

UN (United Nations), Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education, 2013,

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), Facts and Figures: Teacher Gap, 2013,