‘Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ is the summary of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4. Within that objective, one key target is focused on teachers: ‘By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States.’
Yet given the considerable body of research evidence on teachers and educational development, it is surprising that the ‘qualified teachers’ target does not indicate what yardstick should be used in defining ‘qualified teachers’, and moreover, what makes a quality teacher. For example, a series of studies have established that teachers play a key role in contributing to quality education; that without the support of teachers, education reforms often do not achieve expected outcomes; and that the education of teachers must prepare them adequately to meet the changing demands of classrooms.
One notable publication that is influencing the sustainable development agenda around education is Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What Teachers should Learn and Be Able to Do, edited by Linda Darling-Hammond and John Bransford.
The book marshals convincing arguments that teacher education needs to be contemporarily relevant in providing teachers with the adequate capacity and pedagogy to meet changing students’ needs and learning. Furthermore, the book informs policy-makers, teacher educators, researchers, and other educational stakeholders on the diverse needs of students and required skills for the twenty-first century. Such skills include problem-solving, communicating ideas, creativity, leadership, and entrepreneurial abilities.
Education through teachers needs to respond effectively to this demand and ensure that learning outcomes are met. The book has inspired debates and contributed to the development of research on culturally responsive teaching and pedagogy, teacher education and professional development, and teacher evaluation.
It is clear from SDG 4 that the lack of a clearly defined concept of ‘qualified teachers’ or approaches to determining teacher quality contributed to the findings of the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organization’s 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report (GEM) on the theme of Migration, displacement and education: building bridges, not walls.
The 2019 GEM report finds that ‘teacher education standards are difficult to maintain with recruitment rates.’ In other words, with increasing recruitment of teachers into education systems, there is an observed drop in teacher quality (see Figure 1). But the report fails to explain what teacher quality is about convincingly, neither does it define the concept of ‘qualified teacher’ within the context of SDG 4. The world has about 11 years to go to realizing the SDGs, and about 69 million ‘qualified teachers’ are still needed to make the SDG 4 dream come true.
Figure 1: Rate of new teacher recruitment and percentage of trained teachers, primary education in selected sub-Saharan African countries, 2010-2014
GEM StatLink: http://bit.ly/fig17_1
Source: UIS database
The GEM report also finds that more globally ‘teachers need special training to develop strategies to deal with overcrowded, mixed-age or multicultural classrooms.’ To achieve SDG 4, governments and education systems need to ensure that teachers are equipped with intercultural skills, which is vital for equity and sustainability in a globalizing world.
With the changing composition of students in classrooms globally, due to increasing migration, substantial research is still needed on how teachers exercise their pedagogical practices within the classrooms for inclusive and quality education for all.
What’s more, within the context of the current global education landscape, qualified teachers are ‘transformative intellectuals’, knowledgeable about the socio-cultural differences in their classrooms, and through teacher education, they are equipped to apply differentiation skills in meeting the learning needs of all students. In addition, a recent study has identified teachers in a post-conflict setting ‘as second parents, humanitarians, town criers, role models, guardians, parents, counsellors, unifiers, agents of peace, Hercules, and psychologists’ to support students traumatized from conflict.
In making ‘qualified teachers’ operational, Wim van de Grift sets out six domains of effective teaching practices: creating a safe and stimulating learning climate; efficient classroom management; clear instruction; activating learning; adaptation of teaching; and teaching- learning strategies. Qualified teachers must be able to implement all of these teaching practices in their classrooms, taking account of the unique features of their specific context—culture, socio-economic configuration, and learning needs.
In conclusion, this article strongly supports the crucial need for sustainable development research, particularly within the setting of the global education agenda—quality, accessible, and equitable education for all. Failure to develop a sound knowledge base in areas of policy and practice for sustainable development can lead the society to many unintended consequences.