How can virtual schooling help with tackling teacher shortages in order to achieve sustainable development goal 4?

6th December 2019

By Gavin McLean, International Business Development Director, Edmentum International

The global teacher shortage crisis

Sustainable development goal 4 aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong opportunities for all learners across the globe.

However, there are some common challenges faced by countries across the world face seeking to achieve this goal, one of which is teacher shortages.

According to UNESCO, the world needs almost 69 million new teachers in order to reach the 2030 education goals, and while the obvious answer is to recruit more teachers, this presents its own challenges.

Figures from the OECD suggest that approximately 32% of the world’s teachers are aged 50 and older, and with declining birth rates, and fewer people entering tertiary education to gain the required qualifications, the pool of potential recruits is becoming smaller and smaller.

Add to this the fact that educational technology, guidelines and curriculum standards are constantly changing, it becomes very challenging to ensure initial teacher training and continued professional development adequately prepares teachers for the profession.

Impact of qualified teacher shortages

So to what extent do teacher shortages impact the delivery of inclusive and equitable education?

According to the OECD, the immediate, and arguably the most important impact is lower quality education, either through larger class sizes or relaxed qualification requirements.

Every education system is only as good as the teachers providing the schooling and due to teacher shortages, many countries are relying on untrained teachers to deliver education. In fact, in 1 out of every 3 countries, less than three quarters of teachers are trained to national standards.

Secondly, it can severely limit opportunities for learners. Whether that’s due to lack of teachers willing to work for schools in rural or isolated areas, or because there is a lack of teachers trained in specialist or advanced subjects, it can impact students from all walks of life.

All of this combined with ever increasing teacher turnover contributes towards lower student performance. According to a study in the American Educational Research Journal, students who experience high teacher turnover scored lower in both English and maths, and the effects were amplified in schools with a higher number of low-performing students.

But with the technology available to us, why should location determine the quality of education a student can receive?

The role of virtual schools in tackling teacher shortages

Whilst a focus on teacher recruitment, training and retention is key long-term, virtual schooling has the potential to immediately help with many of the challenges presented by teacher shortages.

Virtual schooling consists of taught courses where the teacher is in a different location to the students, and can be delivered entirely online or as part of a blended curriculum. The benefit of this is that teachers can support students in a multitude of locations, whether that’s cross country, or even cross border.

Virtual schooling can work even if students are attending a traditional bricks and mortar school by supporting schools with subject specialists, or additional courses to meet the needs of all learners.

Many virtual schools, and their teachers, are certified and indeed have additional qualifications to support virtual teaching, ensuring quality of education for all students who access courses in this way.

Virtual schooling also has the potential to break down borders and barriers some students may face in accessing some of the top colleges and universities in the world by giving high school level students the chance to achieve globally recognized qualifications, such as a US high school diploma.

In this time of rapid economic and social change, the best way we can equip children for an unknown future is to ensure that all children receive high-quality instruction, and have every chance at succeeding, no matter where they are in the world.

Teacher shortage is just one factor in global education inequity – we examine more in our series of articles published exclusively for the Education World Forum. Next up: reducing educational inequity and disadvantage through virtual schooling.

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