For World Teacher Day, October 5, the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) released the results of a worldwide survey of ongoing teacher shortages. The first survey on the topic of this scale, it isn’t encouraging anywhere, but the numbers in sub-Saharan Africa in particular point to an oncoming educational crisis.

The southern three-quarters of the continent—not to be confused with South Africa—has a population of over 800 million, and includes 51 nations. The survey looked at all government-run schools with an eye towards achieving universal primary and secondary education, making sure everyone can read, do math, and has the educational opportunity to go to college. That standard, for the record, is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

To be able to achieve those standards by 2030, sub-Saharan African countries will need to hire 19.6 million more primary and secondary school teachers. Accounting for how many are currently predicted to be entering the job market by then, that leaves a teacher shortage of more than 17 million.

Africa has one of the fastest-growing populations of children in the world. By 2030, their demographics of primary age children will have grown by 40 to 50 percent. And very few of their current students are aiming to become teachers. Teaching is, as in many countries, a low-paid profession with irregular needs and benefits. Teaching strikes are a worldwide frequent phenomenon.

Overcrowding is already a large issue in sub-Saharan African schools. A typical public classroom in many of the countries in question means one teacher to more than 40 students. Madagascar is the worst by far, with more than 250 students per trained teacher.

Left unchecked, the teacher shortage crisis can only escalate. But it is also a crisis that can only be effectively resolved from within. Extra-national help should come in the form of financial aid without restrictions, allowing each country license to organize its educational system as it needs.

Photo: Joseph Sohm /