Interview with the Director of the Middle East Institute of Higher Education (AUC, Egypt), Dr. Malak Zaalouk: The success of education objectives and reforms depends on solving teacher shortages and recognizing them as catalysts for change

المعلّمون والمعلمات
2022 - 10 - 05
Teachers, trainers and educators are the most powerful elements in transforming education systems and play a fundamental role in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4). However, the status of teachers remains a concern in many countries across the globe, specifically in the post COVID-19 period.
Teachers, trainers and educators are the most powerful elements in transforming education systems and play a fundamental role in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4). However, the status of teachers remains a concern in many countries across the globe, specifically in the post COVID-19 period. World Teachers’ Day (WTD) is observed on the 5th of October each year to celebrate and thank teachers, thus recognizing their role in building humanity and societies. This year, it is the time to place teachers at the heart of education recovery.

On the occasion of WTD2022, Professor of practice and the Director of the Middle East Institute of Higher Education of AUC, Egypt, Dr Malak Zaalouk, shed more light on teacher needs, and the need for teachers. Dr Zaalouk stressed on the crucial need to empower, adequately recruit and train, recognize, motivate and support teachers and educators within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems to help them carry on their missions amid a projected shortage of school teachers.

According to Dr Zaalouk, who possesses a vast experience in the education field as a Professor of Practice at a prestigious university in Cairo, “to transform education, countries should follow a comprehensive (holistic) Teacher Policy Development Guide, that UNESCO has been actively advocating for.” She added, “when we contemplate the situation of teachers, we should look at several aspects like their educational background, recruitment process, and we should ask whether they are incentivized, well paid, recognized and supported, how they are retained at work, and most importantly, how to provide them with comfortable conditions at education institutions to give their best and give them psychosocial support and the appropriate tools to excel in their jobs”.

According to a UNESCO study, the Arab region is one of the most affected regions in terms of a projected shortage of qualified school teachers. By 2030, the region will face an upsurge in its school-aged population, with 9.5 million additional students. In Dr Zaalouk’s opinion, there are feasible solutions, be they long-term or short-term fixes, to overcome this challenge while taking into consideration the financial, security and political situations of the affected countries. She explained, “The Arab region is not the only one suffering from teacher shortage, as most countries are struggling with the same issue, and the trend is rising. What we actually need to do is expand our partnerships — at the global, regional, national and local levels — built upon a shared vision and shared goals placing education and teachers at the core.”

Dr Zaalouk pinpointed the significant role that retirees, communities, and governments can play in supporting and empowering teachers. “This is not enough. We also need to prepare a good in-school mentorship system that can support teachers at all levels. We can use educational technologies as well to support new teachers who are starting their careers, and benefit from technology in learning activities at school,” she stressed. She then reiterated that to bridge the teacher shortage gap in the Arab region or in any other region, it is crucial to ensure that teachers and educators are empowered, well-trained, qualified, motivated, supported and equipped.

“Teachers in the Arab world, unfortunately, have not been largely involved in the social dialogue and decision-making of the education sector. However, given their closeness to the reality of schools, communities and their learners, teachers should be involved more substantively in education policy and decision-making processes at different levels” , Dr Zaalouk said. Such involvement would contribute to enhancing their motivation to stay in the profession. “There exists a variety of complex reasons that drive teachers to abandon their profession, including financial crises, low salaries, lack of social recognition of their work, lack of opportunities for professional development, insufficient promotion prospects and difficult working conditions,” she affirmed. 

Dr Zaalouk asserted that teachers will be respected and regarded as professional knowledge producers, only if they prioritize professionalization and self-development. “A cultural change is needed in teachers. Teachers must prove their intellectual and creative attitude by engaging in research, by being present in the professional arena and by creating a knowledge base. This will help them earn people’s respect and recognition,” she highlighted.

In response to the recent developments in teacher training and professional development on issues such as ICT skills and digital literacy, Dr Zaalouk said “it is true that many countries in the region made significant advancements and launched interesting initiatives by providing digital devices, new portals and online resources to help teachers. However, this is not enough because teachers need to be trained on the use of innovative techniques.” She added, “this process cannot happen overnight because teachers have been marginalized for a very long time, which means that they are not fully motivated to be self-learners. We need to give them a lot of support to introduce them to all the new teaching modalities, which requires more mentorship and coaching”.

Dr Zaalouk stated that better trained, motivated and empowered teachers can be central agents in transforming education systems and improving student learning. There are many serious initiatives to advocate the need for education systems to adapt to support teachers as agents of change. She said fervently, "an initiative has been launched in Egypt to support school-university partnerships with the aim of empowering teachers to become professionals and agents of change. Although this initiative has not been implemented at the national scale yet, the results so far are very promising, and we need to partner these two institutions in theory and in practice to empower teachers to change school cultures and pedagogies".

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