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Around the globe, classrooms in need

If you think it's hard to find teachers in the United States, consider the plight of schools elsewhere in the world.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) used World Teachers' Day last Friday to review a profession that engages 59 million people globally. But unless a lot more teachers join those ranks, UNESCO warns, it will be difficult to achieve universal basic education by 2015, a goal pledged by more than 180 governments.

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UNESCO estimates that 15 million more teachers must be hired over the next decade. The problem affects rich and poor nations alike: While the shortage is most severe in southern Asia and Africa, wealthy countries like the United States also face significant shortfalls in key areas.

It's not hard to understand why. Teachers face high expectations in many countries, yet often are poorly paid, get little respect, and work in violent conditions.

In some African countries, the number of teachers entering the system is outpaced by those dying of AIDS. In Brazil, Paraguay, the Philippines, and Zimbabwe, between 30 and 50 percent of high-school-age students are enrolled in primary schools as repeaters or late enrollees. More than 80 percent of students in the Russian Federation attend schools that lack teaching materials. Worldwide, 580 million women and children are illiterate.

Never has the need been more apparent - in the US and elsewhere - to give students the tools to gain a better understanding of the world around them. UNESCO's call for better "training, deployment and retention of well-paid and well- resourced teachers" should be closely heeded.

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