The situation of school teachers in Sub-Saharan Africa

The purpose of this paper written for my MA Course on Online and Distance Education at Open University is to provide with background information on the situation of primary school teachers in Sub Saharan Africa, most specifically in Mozambique, with an specific focus on education, teacher supply and training to provide a general perspective of the issues at stake and to provide a view that may help stakeholders at all levels assess the best course of action in order to improve the situation in the country and help to achieve the universal primary education EFA (Education For All) goal.


Even though there has been a steady progress in the Sub Saharan Africa on net enrolment of students in primary education, the region still needs to procure approximately 4 million teachers for 2015 to be able to provide universal primary education. The amount of teachers needed is just the tip of the iceberg on the issue of teacher provision, as there are a series of variables such as teacher/student ratio, quality, identity, accessibility, infrastructure, financial costs (for governments and parents), gender, and health obstacles, to name some of the most important issues that need to be taken into consideration to address the problem.

Mozambique has shown an increase on net enrolment in primary education from 70.32% in 2004 to 90.37% in 2012, and reduced the amount of out of school children from 1,126,260 in 2004 to the lowest 366,736 in 2010. However in 2012 there was a set back to 458,501 out of school children, demonstrating the vulnerability of the country and the necessity to address the problem from various angles. The student/ teacher ratio in the Mozambique in 2012 was 55:1, being 36,359 teachers short of the ideal 40:1 ratio, with the need of an extra 11,463 teachers to cover out of school students, making Mozambique 47,822 teachers short of their current needs (World Bank).

Different countries in the region have addressed the problem of teacher provision in different ways, the Congo, Ghana, Mali, Niger, and Senegal, are choosing to employ what are known as ‘para-teachers’. (Global Campaign for Education, 27) which is a less trained/skilled and cheaper teacher to cope with the large enrolment rates produced by the suspension of fee charges in schools. A strategy that although in some cases has been effective, has raised concerns about the quality of education and raised doubts about the effectiveness of this as a long term solution. Other countries in the region have not come up with a suitable solution to the problem, the exception being Cameroon that has no teacher provision problems having reinstated in 1996 the French model of ècoles normales (GCE, 2006:29), a highly desirable and sustainable way to produce teachers.


The provision of teachers in the region not only raises concerns about the quality of the new teachers but also the issue of keep existing ones in the profession, improving their quality continuously and keeping them motivated to sustain a healthy growth of the education system as “teacher motivation and morale remain in a chronic state of decline”(DFID, 29). The main reasons for the decline in teachers identified are: large class sizes, erosion in the quality of teacher training, the employment of para-teachers, other cost cutting measures such as multiple shifts, and poor pay. (DFID, 8) . The situation is further complicated when we look to the levels of teacher attrition. The motivation issue mentioned above is only one of many reasons causing stress in the system, problems in management, administration, payments on time, good facilities (mostly in rural areas), access to career plans and training, as well as other factors outside the human resources area, like gender discrimination all contribute to attrition problem.

Many teaching positions reserved for women remain unfilled – especially in rural areas. This is primarily because many governments have failed to develop effective incentive systems to encourage female teachers to work in rural or disadvantaged urban areas. Corruption and discrimination also mean that access for young women to teacher training colleges remains a major issue (GCE 2006:22). For instance, “female teachers interviewed in Zambia and Papua New Guinea, reported that they felt they had been deliberately overlooked for promotion on the basis of their gender. In some cases, female teachers even suffered sexual harassment by male teachers: ‘“My fellow teacher proposes love to me, but I don’t want it and I deny him. Then he goes to the headmaster and tells him I don’t do my job and so… of course the head listens to him, so what can I do?” Female teacher, high school, Zambia.” (GCE 2006:48). Even Mozambique with positive discrimination policies “struggles to make an impact when set against the wider picture of constraints on overall teacher numbers.” (Act!onAid, 2007:21)

The impact of AIDS/HIV on teacher supply and education, should not be overlooked, for example in Mozambique the prevalence in adult population was 11.5% in adults aged 15-49, with a higher prevalence in women (13.1%) than in men (9.2%)” (UNAIDS data tools). The mortality rate naturally places pressure on the teacher supply, the major impact on women highlights another gender problem. However on a positive note, a study undertaken in Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda in 2002 concluded that teachers with HIV do not generally face discrimination from school management or pupils. Many of the schools visited had formed their own welfare associations to assist staff in time of emergencies, with expenditures covering medical bills and funeral expenses (Bennell, 2005:451)

Financial and Macroeconomic problems.

Another important factor that prevents all countries of the region to obtain a sustained teacher provision plan, is the macro economical and financial context. Constrains imposed in the region by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) makes it almost impossible for countries with very small fiscal space to sustainably allocate money required to guarantee teacher and infrastructure provision. For example, “the initial tax base in Malawi, Mozambique and Sierra Leone, like most low-income countries, is extremely small – so much so that even good improvements will fall short of government’s spending needs (McKinley 2005 cited in Marphatia et al, 2007:17)”.

Even though Mozambique was favoured with debt relief funds and the possibility of not having to put salary and hiring ceilings for education, the ministry of education of Mozambique faces difficult challenges to achieve its GDP objectives (5% of the GDP and 21% of the government total budget for the year) as it has to compete with other areas of government in order to achieve macroeconomic balance. The Mozambique government admits their limitation in fulfilling financial needs towards the EFA goals. Additionally even though there is a strong commitment of the international community to compensate the shortcomings of the poorest countries towards the EFA Goals, “the political problems of receiving donations combined with the inconsistency and unreliability of the donors funds available, reduces the chances to efficiently tackle the problem as stated in the ADEA Working Group Sector Analysis. (Smith, 2005:451)

Receiving international help is key to achieve EFAs goals in the region and there seems to be consensus between international agencies and governments of the importance of tackling the problem; however the naturally asymmetric relationship between the two is politically complicated, not only because of governance problems in the region, but the different approach to educational development that many stakeholders try to implement. For example the EFA goals pushed by the World Bank, often are at odds with the IMF policies implemented in the region.   Similarly, it is often overlooked by international development agencies that education is at the heart of each nation’s culture and identity and as such governments claim to sovereignty over education goes beyond that basic literacy and numerical skills proposed by the international community.

Despite these differences, governments and international agencies understand good quality education should be gender balanced, teachers should possess a level of autarchy in the class within the curricula that requires high levels of training, motivation and dedication, students should complete the full cycle and financial problems go beyond the teacher payroll. Mozambique has little room for manoeuvre given the financial constrains. There are initiatives to leave the education budget outside the general IMF policy recommendations implemented in Mozambique, Malawi and Sierra Leone, however it is still too early to see their impact and what other policy changes will be needed.


Government’s weak capacity to autonomy reach EFA goals combined with contradictory and stringent conditions from international agencies leave little room to manoeuvre for medium size NGOs to tackle the structural and highly political problems related to teacher procurement and education, however the needs are so vast that covering some of the peripheral needs of the system such as tackling the attrition problem, by providing support to continuous teacher training, improving the lifestyles for teachers in rural areas, providing teaching materials that adjust to the MINED criteria, supporting and counselling teachers and communities, and provide health support where needed could greatly help in preventing teachers that are already there from leaving schools.

Word count: 1491


Bennell, P n.d., ‘The impact of the AIDS epidemic on teachers in sub-Saharan Africa’, Journal Of Development Studies, 41, 3, pp. 440-466, Social Sciences Citation Index, EBSCOhost, viewed 9 December 2013.

2010, ‘EFA Global Monitoring Report 2011: Reaching the marginalized by EFA Global Monitoring Report team at UNESCO, Kevin Watkins, director of publication. Paris: UNESCO, 2010. ISBN 9780199584987.

The World Bank website, (

GCE, 2006, Global Campaign for Education, policy briefing: Teachers for All: what governments and donors should do

Marphatia et al, 2007:17)

Bennell, P; Akyeampong, Kwame, 2007, Teacher Motivation in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. DFID


Smith, HH 2005, ‘Ownership and Capacity: Do Current Donor Approaches Help or Hinder the Achievement of International and National Targets for Education?’, International Journal Of Educational Development, 25, 4, pp. 445-455, ERIC, EBSCOhost, viewed 9 December 2013.



Education, International Development

Mariano Gutiérrez Alarcón

This is Mariano's Blog, here is a compilation of all my interests, as eclectic as they are, my main intention here is articulate them all in one place, and a better platform to show my work and my thoughts freely.

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