Primary School Teacher Deployment: A Comparative Study

Editor(s) Fatimah Kelleher
Publisher Commonwealth Secretariat
Published 2008
Pages 80
Price £10.00
ISBN 9780850928839
Reviewed by Mr Mark Jenkins
University of Winchester
Review published 29 July 2009

By considering the teacher deployment strategies of four Commonwealth countries the book examines UNESCO’s ideal of Universal Primary Education at both an administrative and practitioner level. Looking beyond the smokescreen of teacher recruitment and pupil - teacher ratios to the deployment of staff at a regional level in Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania and Papua New Guinea it highlights disparities in educational opportunity between urban and rural areas as well as an observable gender imbalance in the teaching workforce. A highly statistical examination of four commissioned reports on primary teacher deployment, the book is able to successfully determine the nature of this educational inequality and offers recommendations for improvement in common areas of concern in what, at first sight, may seem very disparate school systems.

The many tables highlight this shortage of teachers in the rural areas of all four countries. A gender imbalance, with fewer female teachers employed, is also apparent and this is exacerbated even further in the rural areas. Poverty is seen as a major factor in this distribution allied to cultural and religious particularities. By noting that the presence of female teachers is seen as important in the retention of girls at school this lack of female role models is seen as a particular problem if this educational imbalance is to be overturned. The majority of children enrolled in elementary education in the four nations are boys. Girls in rural areas are often required to help domestically or in work, they may be subject to early marriage, and some parents have a distrust of formal education, perceiving it as a morally corrupting influence.

The major problem with teacher deployment in all four of the countries studied was the rural urban divide. Teachers who were interviewed gave the following reasons for their reluctance to work in rural areas:

  • A lack of basic services
  • Lack of suitable accommodation
  • Security
  • Limited access to learning resources
  • Less conducive environment for teachers with families
  • Quality issues, seen as a post for the least qualified

Posting single women into such areas is seen as a particular problem in this respect, resulting in a clustering of female teachers in urban areas with few teaching in the country.

Issues of teacher quality and qualifications are made and it is noted how all countries in the study had made progress in this respect since the millennium, although these are still works in progress. Consideration is also given to the teacher deployment systems in each country and recommendations for improving the quality/distribution/gender balance are put forward. These range from effective decentralisation of national policy, and openness in the teacher deployment process, to the raising of standards in teacher training.

Such recommendations are not practicable without the will of the teaching workforce, however, educated people are not merely blocks to be moved around a board, and the study recognises this. Incentives to encourage teachers to move to rural areas, such as housing, raised wages and a stipend to cover travel costs are all considered, as is improved childcare provision. These changes may also have the effect of raising the status of teachers in rural society; they do, however, come at a financial cost and would thus seem to be the ideal object for financial grants from international bodies in the pursuit of the goal of universal primary education.

One allied area not considered in the book was that of promotion. A mandatory two year period working in a rural school for those teachers seeking advancement to a senior management level in school, and thus a higher salary, would undoubtedly raise the status and quality of rural education and go some way to breaking down the barriers of social inequality between town and country.

The book provides an interesting contrast to the educational system of the United Kingdom where the gender imbalance is strongly in favour of females in the workforce and it is boys who suffer from a lack of role models. In England teacher recruitment is strongest in the leafy suburbs and country areas and the inner cities suffer from shortages of teachers. Is there a case for reciprocal training and secondment between England and other Commonwealth countries to both broaden the skills, experience and abilities of members of the teaching force and meet these shortfalls in deployment? In our ever shrinking world countries are becoming less unilateral and more international entities and their children will have to grow in a much wider world than their parents. The above two paragraphs are only tentative suggestions.

‘Primary School Teacher Deployment’ is a valuable examination of the inequalities present in the school systems of four Commonwealth countries and will prove interesting to anyone interested in educational policy, social inequality and professional development. It is easy to engage with, strongly underpinned statistically, and insightful as to its recommendations. The task now is to persuade the relevant authorities to take their educational strategies further in advancing the quality of primary education for all their children, regardless of gender or social and geographic status, through equitable and valued universal systems of teacher deployment.