Teacher recruitment and retention is global issue. Around the world, the pool of teacher candidates has varying degrees of access to other jobs and other sources of income. In Sub-Saharan Africa, a series of mining booms is affecting who selects a teaching career, and how committed teachers are to their profession.
Poli Natama, a University of Toronto researcher, examined the teaching profession in the context of the booms that were prompted by increases in international mineral prices during the early 2000s. Artisanal mining, where individuals can mine independently on a small scale using their own resources, is a large feature of this economic phenomenon.
In the context of the new wealth and opportunity created by the mining booms, Natama asked two key questions: Does mining attract or repel qualified individuals into (or from) the teaching profession? And, how does mining affect the efforts that teachers put into their roles?
Through a comparative analysis of primary school teachers’ characteristics in regions with and without mineral deposits, Natama looked at how selection of the teaching profession, and commitment to the profession, changed in response to rising and falling mineral prices.
Exposure to boom opportunities, Natama found, created more qualified, but less committed teachers.
“I did find that a rise in the prices of minerals more suited for artisanal mining is associated with higher educational levels among teachers, albeit with a noticeable decline in their teaching efforts,” PhD Candidate Natama said. “This trend manifests in various ways, including a lower propensity to provide additional student support, a reduced willingness to engage in pedagogical associations, and a higher likelihood of absenteeism from classes.”
In regions with minerals less conducive to artisanal mining, Natama observed a drop in teachers’ educational levels post-price increase, but she found there was no detectable impact on their teaching practices.
How teachers feel about their renumeration was also an issue in mineral-rich areas.
“The results also suggest a shift in salary perceptions, with greater income dissatisfaction among teachers in regions rich in high-value, labor-intensive minerals,” she explained.
Discovering what greater and lesser exposure to these mining booms means for teacher career commitment, and the quality of education students receive, will give policymakers and decision makers valuable guidance to inform teacher selection, evaluation, and professional development.
“The mining sector represents a considerable share of GDP across countries in the region, and the rise in the demand for such resources has first-order consequences for these regional economies,” said Gustavo Bobonis, Natama’s dissertation supervisor. “Among the multiple economic consequences, mining booms have substantial effects on regional labor markets, including the returns to educational investments and individuals’ occupational decisions. However, we know little about the mechanisms driving such relationships. In addition to educational demand-side effects that have been documented in this literature, the educational sector may suffer in quality and these stark changes could induce higher dropout and worse learning outcomes among the student population.”