Barriers to teachers’ professional development in fragile contexts

What is a “fragile context” and how would that impact teachers’ professional development? UNICEF defines a fragile context as one with an accumulation and combination of risks as a result of context-specific underlying causes combined with insufficient coping capacity of the state, system and/or communities to manage, absorb or mitigate those risks. 

Teachers in these situations fight different battles every day and on top of that, face barriers to obtaining proper professional development. 

Challenging working conditions

The community and infrastructure in which teachers work are the most obvious reason why they could be denied (or not offered) quality professional development. 

Limited, delayed or no remuneration, high student-teacher ratios, a physically unsafe space, a lack of respect from community leaders or parents, needy students, limited school resources like teaching materials, all make their working environment difficult. Having to face these challenges every day is demoralizing and can strip away their motivation to strive for professional development – this will eventually snowball into long-term issues in the education system. 

The following characteristics of teachers would also be impacted: 

  • Identity as an educator – Teachers living in fragile contexts may not have ended up in this profession by choice but perhaps by a lack thereof. For these individuals, their professional identity has started off weak and will not be strengthened by a prolonged period working in challenging environments.
  • Self-belief –Teachers with high self-efficacy believe in their teaching capabilities and are able to enforce more control over their teaching environment and process as compared to those with low self-efficacy. 
  • Professionalism – This is essentially the “what’s the point, what difference can I make?” mentality. Tough working conditions and biases faced lead to resistance in self-improvement, especially when teachers perceive the returns to be low. Rigid education systems, low pay or no professional growth despite their own efforts to upskill exacerbate a lack of professionalism by not placing enough value on teachers. 

Systemic challenges

Countries with unstable politics and societies are often not able to compensate teachers adequately or prioritize their working conditions, much less their professional development. Fragile contexts usually cannot dedicate resources to help teachers improve their practice, or perhaps just to master their content. 



While not every fragile context involves conflict, in places that do, the basic physical safety of teachers and students is at risk. Even if there are opportunities for professional development, it may be dangerous for teachers to participate, as these efforts could be perceived to be aligned with an unpopular faction or government.  Also, in cases of conflict, basic infrastructure such as power and water supplies and the internet may be cut off, thus making professional development hard, or impossible. 


Badly designed professional development

In fragile contexts, any professional development that exists would likely be more sporadic rather than well-thought-out and prolonged. Some reasons for this could be - budget constraints, leaders’ misunderstandings about the role of teachers in the long-term (leading to a lack of thought put into how such development could impact recruitment, retention, support, compensation), and courses being carried out by people unqualified in teaching educators. This of course would perpetuate a cycle of teachers viewing these curricula as of low value and irrelevant. 

With so many challenges stacked against teachers in fragile contexts, any aid possible in school would help them carry out their jobs a little better, and perhaps give them more time to focus on professional development. Aids such as school management systems - increasingly common in a digital-first world - would reduce time taken for tedious tasks and administrative matters, allowing teachers to, well, teach. 

For example, LittleLives not only helps schools monitor and analyze data related to students, staff, parents and daily administration, but also offers an intuitive school communication platform for teachers and parents to keep one another updated. 

If you would like to find out more, talk to LittleLives at sales@littlelives.com