Good education demands good teachers. Over the course of the twentieth century, as the teaching profession has grown, so have its standards risen. Many teacher-training courses in rich countries now last for four years and follow after 12 years of schooling: teachers have now had four more years of full-time education than used to be the norm. Society has steadily expected more of teachers in the variety of tasks they have to perform, in the skills they need to master and in the imagination required for their work. Rising expectations have brought rising quality. But, in the last third of the century, near-impossible burdens have been placed on the teaching service of developing countries. The end of the colonial era brought new demands for education. Schools had to expand at an unprecedented rate and needed to be staffed. Demographic pressure and the practical difficulty of expanding teacher education in pace with the demand for schooling made for a chronic shortage of teachers in much of Africa and Asia.
A shortage of teachers will either reduce the chances of children getting an education at all, or reduce the quality of what they do get. In many cases ‘prospective primary teachers in developing countries typically have not completed secondary education’ (Lockheed and Verspoor 1989, para. 207). Where teachers’ own education is limited, they lack the confidence, knowledge and skills to teach much more than they were themselves taught, or to teach in a different way. The problems are at their most severe in the poorest countries: one estimate suggests that by the end of the century low-income countries will still lack 1.8 million teachers (ibid., para. 20). Public pressure to widen opportunities for schooling, and the very success of ministries in opening new schools in response to this pressure, mean that demands for schooling have run ahead of the supply of teachers. Teacher shortages have been compounded by attrition as teachers have left a profession whose relative status and income has declined in many countries over the last two decades.
Quality matters as well as quantity. To do their job well, teachers need to possess a mastery of the subject matter they are to teach and to be skilled in the process of teaching: a tall order for those who enter teaching with a minimal education, may receive little or no training in pedagogy and are