Navigating the Complexity of Teacher Shortages in Southeast Asia

Friday, 28 June 2024 |

Navigating the Complexity of Teacher Shortages in Southeast Asia


In the ever-evolving landscape of education, from the COVID-19 pandemic to the advent of digitalisation, teachers remain at the centre of improving learning outcomes, empowering our learners, and achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4. However, we are hampered by the challenge of teacher shortages experienced by many countries across the globe. Recognising the urgency of this challenge, the 14th Teacher Task Force (TTF) Policy Dialogue – held in Johannesburg, South Africa from 26 - 28 February – focused on dignifying, diversifying, and enhancing the teaching profession to address global teacher shortages.

During the forum, SEAMEO Secretariat, under the leadership of Datuk Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim, was invited to provide regional perspectives on navigating the complexity of teacher shortages in Southeast Asia, a region defined by its variances across and within countries. This builds on the findings of the UNESCO Global Report on Teachers, which was launched at the event. The report highlighted a critical teacher shortage in Southeast Asia, with a projected gap of 4.5 million teachers by 2030. This staggering figure not only calls for immediate action but also highlights the critical role of cooperation and collaboration in addressing this challenge.

Datuk Dr Habibah, in her presentation, highlighted four major aspects in navigating and addressing teacher shortages in the region.

Why Teach? Teacher Motivation

In a recent SEAMEO INNOTECH study exploring teacher motivations in the Philippines, intrinsic factors such as a passion for teaching and commitment to societal contribution emerged as primary drivers for joining and staying in the profession. However, external factors like economic considerations, workload demands, and supportive systems pose significant threats to teacher retention. This study underscores the importance of understanding teacher motivations to shape policies that reaffirm their dedication and address their needs.

Teacher Quality: Teacher Professional Development

Quality teaching is another facet of the equation. The Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) shed light on the variance in teacher qualifications and preparation across the region. While some countries boast a majority of teachers with bachelor's degrees or higher, others struggle to ensure their educators receive adequate training. Teachers across the region are also experiencing challenging working conditions. Many teachers worked in classrooms where a large proportion of students had not mastered skills expected in earlier grades. Large class sizes and diverse student language backgrounds compounded the challenges teachers faced in meeting all students’ needs. Across the 6 SEA-PLM 2019 participating countries, in 74% of schools, teachers identified lack of basic knowledge and skills as the biggest barrier to student learning. This highlights the need for comprehensive policy measures to enhance teacher training and deployment.

Teachers and Tech: Technology in Transforming the Teaching and Learning Process

The integration of technology in education has emerged as a catalyst for transforming the teaching and learning process, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2023 GEM Report on Technology in Education in Southeast Asia highlighted the rapid expansion of digital technology in the region. However, there is still a huge variance across and within countries. One example is the access to the internet from the homes of Southeast Asian students. While the average is 57%, the range among Southeast Asian countries is between 16% to 98%.

While technology presents gains and opportunities, challenges such as infrastructure limitations and inadequate teacher training hinder its full potential. Efforts to empower teachers through technology are underway across Southeast Asia. Initiatives like virtual mentoring platforms in Cambodia and online resource sharing communities in Malaysia underscore a commitment to harnessing technology for teacher development. However, significant gaps remain, particularly in teacher confidence and training in utilising digital tools effectively.

Teachers as Leaders: Positioning Teachers as Education Leaders

Central to this discussion is the concept of teacher leadership. The Southeast Asia Teachers Competency Framework emphasises the role of empowered teachers as catalysts for change within their communities. By equipping teachers with the necessary skills and knowledge, SEAMEO Member Countries aim to foster a culture of continuous improvement and innovation in education.

Addressing global teacher shortages and harnessing technology to empower educators require a multifaceted approach. Advocacy, quality training, incentives, and supportive work environments are essential components of this endeavour. Beyond policy measures, fostering a deeper appreciation for the teaching profession and engaging teachers as partners in the process are equally vital. As we navigate the complexities of education, one thing remains clear: the empowerment of teachers is paramount to shaping a brighter future for generations to come.