By Josiah Ajiboye and Quentin Wodon

Josiah Ajiboye is President of the Africa Federation of Teacher Regulatory Agencies (AFTRA) based in Abuja. Quentin Wodon is Director of the UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa  (UNESCO IICBA) based in Addis Ababa.

Ms. Adeola Adefemi, a public-school teacher teaching English as a second language to senior secondary school students in Nigeria, won the African Union’s Continental Best Teacher Award. Together with seven other outstanding teachers from Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morrocco, and South Africa, she will be recognized at an event for World Teachers’ Day (on October 5) organized by the African Union Commission and UNESCO IICBA.

Best Teacher Awards are a great way to recognize outstanding teachers. The awards can raise the appreciation of teachers in society while demonstrating that hard work and innovation can make a difference for learners. The African Union Commission instituted the Continental Best Teacher Award in 2019. Winners receive cash gifts and are celebrated. As argued by IICBA in a report led by Steve Nwokeocha and Aminata Sessay in the IICBA Studies series entitled “West Africa – Investing in Teachers and School Leaders:  Professional Standards, Teacher Education, and Working Conditions,” teacher awards are important to celebrate the unique contribution that teachers make to their students, their communities, and societies.

Asked about advice she could share with other teachers, Ms. Adefemi responded: “Maintain a deep passion for [your] students… fostering a spirit of collaboration. Work closely with your fellow teachers and, equally importantly, with your students. Learning often thrives in a collaborative environment, and sharing insights and experiences can lead to innovative teaching methods and heightened student engagement… Address … challenges proactively, seeking creative solutions that benefit both you and your students. Lastly, commit to never stopping your own learning journey…  Staying updated with new teaching techniques, technologies, and educational trends is vital for providing the best learning experiences for your students.”

Teaching is a demanding profession. It is also one of the most important professions for societies’ development. In economic terms, the changing wealth of a nation is the set of assets that enables it to produce future income. At the World Bank, this wealth can be measured as the sum of natural capital (such as oil, forests, or land), produced capital (investments in roads, factories, etc.), and human capital (the value today of the future earnings of the labor force), plus a residual category called net foreign assets. Globally but also in Nigeria, human capital wealth, i.e., people account for two thirds of wealth, a much larger share than natural and produced capital. In turn, education accounts for a large share of human capital wealth. Investing in education is one of the best investments that countries can make.

But for investments in education to bear fruit, we need great teachers. Unfortunately, globally and  again in Nigeria, we face a shortage of qualified teachers. This year, the theme for World Teachers’ Day is “The teachers we need for the education we want: The global imperative to reverse the teacher shortage.” Estimates suggest that African nations will need to recruit millions of teachers to respond to rising educational attainment and population growth, not to speak of the teachers needed to achieve targets set forth in the Sustainable Development Goals. This will not be easy in a context where teaching may not be seen as an attractive profession and many teachers already lack the qualifications they need.

What can be done to reduce teacher shortages and ensure that teachers can excel? There is no panacea, but priorities should include improving teachers’ working conditions, ensuring quality pre-service education, providing continuous professional development, and establishing clear career paths and related competencies. As noted in IICBA’s study on investing in teachers in West Africa, Nigeria has been a leader in many of those areas. Its Teacher Service Commission has adopted standards and competencies for teachers that follow best practice and the African Union’s recommendations for Member States.

Much remains to be done though, as too many children still do not learn enough in school. As Ms. Adefemi said in her interview posted on IICBA’s website, “To empower teachers … Ministries should invest in professional development, providing funding and support for continuous teacher training  and development programs… Recognizing and rewarding outstanding teachers … can motivate them and inspire others…. Ensuring that teachers have access to necessary teaching materials, technology, and resources is crucial… Lastly, offering leadership training and mentorship programs can prepare teachers for leadership roles… By providing teachers with the support, resources, recognition, and opportunities for professional development, they can seize these various avenues for growth … in shaping the future of education.”