Assessing subject mismatches in Zamfara state

By Alexandra Doyle, Oxford Policy Management (OPM) Consultant

An assessment of teacher supply and demand encompasses an investigation of teacher supply (i.e. the number of graduates from Colleges of Education (CoEs), teacher demand (i.e. assessing teacher shortages based on prescribed pupil-teacher ratios) and understanding the policies and practices that mediate supply and demand (i.e. the government’s role in recruitment and deployment decisions). However, assessing teacher demand and supply at aggregate levels (e.g. at the state level) masks the complexities of matching teachers’ subject specialisations to the specific subject requirements of schools. Ensuring that teachers are teaching the subject in which they specialised is an important part of ensuring that the quality of teaching in schools is of a high standard. Therefore, rigorous recruitment and deployment policies, that match teachers to appropriate teaching posts, are critical.

The cycle of assessing and addressing subject mismatches starts with the state having a clear picture of schools’ needs (i.e. demand for teachers, by subject). In addition, given that there is a three year lag between teachers enrolling in CoEs and graduating, it is crucial for the state to be able to project future teacher demand, by subject, such that future supply and future demand are also in line with each other. This projected demand can then be translated into enrolment targets for the CoEs in order to match the supply of teachers with the demand for teachers. All of these processes require reliable data particularly around teacher demand and teachers’ subject specialisations.

In Zamfara state, there is anecdotal evidence that large subject mismatches exist in public primary and junior secondary schools. For example, teachers in schools in Zamfara have reported to have studied mathematics but are found to be teaching English. Similar evidence has also been found in other states in Nigeria (Allsop and Watts 2016). Furthermore, from CoE data on intake patterns, there appear to be large subject mismatches. While all primary teachers will require the Primary Education Studies (PES) degree to teach in primary schools, only 20% of students at Maru and 8% of those at the Federal College of Education, Gusau are enrolled on the PES course. At the same time, our forecasts of teacher demand indicate that roughly 70% of total teacher recruitment needs in basic education over the next decade will be for primary-level teachers, who require this specialisation, hence indicating a severe mismatch.

The findings of TDP’s Baseline Impact Evaluation (De and Petterson, 2015) in Zamfara indicate that these mismatches translate into poor subject knowledge amongst teachers which decreases the quality of education received by pupils. The baseline survey found that the share of sampled teachers who scored between 50% and 100% on the teacher development needs assessment (TDNA), which is indicative of subject knowledge, was extremely low – just 2.6% of teachers fell into this category for English, 28% for Maths and 3% for Science. Similarly, the vast majority of teachers were unable to correct errors in pupils’ work, provide relevant feedback, identify pupils’ learning needs, and monitor their academic progress. Roughly 90% of teachers demonstrated limited ability in these areas. One caveat here is that these findings are not restricted to recently-recruited cohorts of teachers. However, these results do highlight that there is a strong case to assess the rigour of recruitment and deployment processes.

In order to address these mismatches appropriately – by introducing rigour into CoEs’ enrolment practices as well as state government recruitment and deployment practices – reliable and up-to-date data is required to understand the extent of mismatches. Unfortunately, however, the 2014/15 Annual School Census (ASC) does not contain reliable information on the subject of qualification and subject taught by teachers in Zamfara state – for example, in the relevant section of the ASC, most teachers have reported whether they teach part time or full time, rather than reporting their subject of study and the subject they teach. Only 14% of primary-level teachers specified their subject of specialisation in the 2014/15 ASC, and, of these, roughly a third said that they had specialised in ‘General Primary’ studies, providing a very rough indication of the mismatch in subject specialisations at the primary level. As a result of this poor data, it is difficult to determine the full extent of mismatches on the demand side and provide any reliable data to CoEs to facilitate their planning.

Given the lack of data available from schools regarding subject specialisation requirements, there is evidence that CoEs are unable to plan recruitment and training appropriately. At both Colleges of Education in Zamfara, stakeholders noted that enrolment numbers by subject are largely determined by applicants’ preferences and whether or not they meet the requirements for their preferred course. Some respondents also mentioned the role of departmental capacity, although this seems to be a secondary factor. As one respondent at FCET noted, if a course is oversubscribed, “we usually advise them but if the candidate refuses then we allow them (to enrol on their preferred course)”. While stakeholders expressed awareness of the need to be more responsive to subject-specific teacher demand in the state, the extent to which even this limited data is in fact feeding into enrolment numbers seems to be limited.

Further challenges in ensuring that the supply of teachers in certain subjects meet demand include stigma around specific courses.  Enrolment on the recently-created Primary Education Studies (PES) and Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) courses is restricted by relatively low levels of student interest in them. ECCE in particular tends to be perceived by students as an “inferior” or “feminine course”. Furthermore, the PES specialisation is deemed to restrict future career options to teaching at the primary level exacerbated by the fact that the government continues to hire non-PES holders to teach in primary schools. Together, these factors provide little incentive for students who have a preference for other courses to study the PES. Nevertheless, both Colleges do seem to be making an effort to encourage students to enrol on both the PES and ECCE courses by, for instance, automatically enrolling applicants who don’t express a course preference on the PES course.

Matching teacher supply and teacher demand is certainly a challenge in any context. However, the study in Zamfara highlights the need for good data in order to begin to understand schools’ needs. Colleges of Education and the state government cannot adequately plan enrolment of students into teaching degrees, or rigorously implement recruitment and deployment policies without good data on the current state of subject mismatches amongst recruited teachers.

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