The nature of the global educational climate is changing, with a critical shift towards quality-focused reforms and renewed efforts to meet the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals. These cannot be achieved without reforming the education workforce and without engaging closely with teachers in the design and implementation of reforms. In recognizing this, the Commission’s goals to invigorate global education financing and to identify more effective and coordinated ways to deploy resources to ensure more children are in school and learning have to start with teachers – the most critical resource in an education system.

Research into the teacher workforce in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan argues that governments must recognize that it is not enough to consider teachers as the most important inputs but also to ensure that their strength and influence are channelled for the benefit of students rather than for their own personal gain. The fact is that whilst a number of players within the education arena have the capability and power to influence the political economy of education systems, teachers are typically the best organized (in associations or unions) and often the most vocal among all stakeholder groups. Often, their interests and incentives do not necessarily align with those of their students or with the society at large. Governments typically tend to operate at extremes of the spectrum – either giving in completely to teacher demands or totally ignoring their voice. However, striking a balance between these two is necessary for the constructive involvement of teachers in the reform process.

Whilst all three countries studied in this report have initiated reforms that attempt to make considerable strides in improving teacher effectiveness (through changes in recruitment policies, deployment, transfers, monitoring and accountability, training etc.), there is less evidence of teachers being positively engaged in the policy process at either the design or even in the implementation stages of the reforms. This has resulted in a lack of sensitization of teachers to the reform as well as an ensuing lack of active engagement in the reform process even in instances where teachers are in favor of the proposed changes.

Evidence from the region indicates that teachers are politically very active and well organized into associations and unions and reasonably well entrenched in the political arena. This allows them to be able to influence key educational agenda items. However, oftentimes teachers tend to present less benevolent agenda items that call for salary increases or lessened workloads rather than more altruistic demands that may ultimately directly benefit their students. The burden of ad hoc administrative and non-teaching duties places arduous pressure on teachers which takes them away from their actual teaching duties and often results in discontent which at the extreme has been seen to manifest itself in violent protests.

Teachers must be actively engaged in the reform process for the reforms to manifest successfully. In order to achieve this, it is important for governments and policymakers to collaborate and consult teachers when designing and implementing policies. Examples from the region showcase instances where monumental reforms have been successfully implemented through active engagement with teachers. It is possible to achieve positive change, but it cannot be done without actively taking the teacher workforce on board.

Monazza Aslam is an Education Economist with experience working on gender, labour market issues and student learning in developing countries. In addition to serving as an Associate Fellow at IDEAS Pakistan, Dr. Aslam is also a Visiting Researcher at the Institute of Education (University of London) and a Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), an economic research center within the Department of Economics at Oxford University and a Senior Research Fellow at Idara-Taleem-o-Agahi (ITA) which houses and implements the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), an annual assessment of children’s learning outcomes in Pakistan.