< News | Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Teacher retention challenges more prevalent near sub-Saharan Africa’s mining booms: PhD research 

Poli Natama News Overlay
Poli Natama (supplied photo)

Student research from the University of Toronto suggests that proximity to mining booms in sub-Saharan Africa may affect teacher commitment and retention.

Poli Natama, a PhD candidate in the department of economics, finds that teachers in mining boom communities – areas rich in minerals – are more likely to leave their profession for the economic opportunities mining booms provide.

Teacher retention has particularly become a challenge in areas where artisanal, small-scale mining, a practice that utilizes traditional tools to extract minerals, is prominent.

“Teachers that live in regions rich in minerals that are more amendable to artisanal mining can easily extract those minerals,” Natama says. 

“The pay gap between your salary and the salary you could get as an artisanal miner would decrease. This also influences commitment to teaching.”

There are 20 resource-rich mining countries globally – 15 of those countries are in sub-Saharan Africa. In the early 2000s, the price of certain minerals rose due to high demand, especially from emerging countries like China. The demand drove an increase in prices and interest in mining activities in African countries. Today, the mining sector is the first recipient of foreign direct investment.

This leaves teachers who earn a lower income more inclined to search for informal private sector jobs, like artisanal mining.

Natama explains that while teaching was once considered a well-paid job in the African region, an increase in teaching jobs initiated by the United Nations’ call to achieve universal primary education in the early 2000s was followed by wage cuts in the region. 

Furthermore, the education requirements for teachers hired by the government were lowered to fill the need for more teachers. The prior minimum requirement, which was the completion of both the first and second cycles of high school (success at the end of high school exam), changed to include individuals who only completed the first cycle of high school.

Teachers hired by local communities – also called volunteer teachers – have generally lower education requirements. Government-hired teachers who completed the second cycle of high school earn more than those who completed only the first cycle as well as volunteer teachers.

While higher-paying teachers may be more inclined to stay in the industry, that doesn’t guarantee teacher quality.

“You would expect if teachers who are more qualified to teach stay, there would be a positive effect on the quality of teachers. I found that even though more qualified teachers stay, they are less involved in their duties,” Natama says.

“A lower propensity of providing extracurricular help and higher absenteeism are components of the lower involvement in duties.”

Investigating the effects of mining on teachers could be a mechanism for the effects of mining on students, Natama says.

Natama’s next step is to analyze student data to trace how teacher retention and commitment effects student success. She will do this by utilizing data on student achievement from 1995 to 2014 in 10 African francophone-speaking countries. Her dissertation research is supervised by Gustavo Bobonis, a professor in the department of economics.

“It’s not possible to achieve prosperous and sustainable growth without improving the quality of education. This is something many African countries have been struggling with. Increasing financial incentives, especially in regions rich in minerals suitable for artisanal mining, could help mitigate the adverse effects on the quality of education.”

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