BONN, Germany, Oct 04 (IPS) — Once a year, on October 5, we celebrate World Teachers’ Day. Why is it so important to have a closer look on the teaching profession? What is so special about being a teacher nowadays?
World Teachers’ Day is an international day which was established to attract public attention on the work of teachers. The day was established in 1994, in commemora-tion the signing of the “ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers” in 1966, which focused on “appreciating, assessing and improving the ed-ucators of the world” and on providing a global opportunity to consider issues related to teachers and teaching (see Wikipedia, The Free Encycopledia, World Teachers’ Day).
With benchmarks regarding teacher’s rights and responsibilities, standards for their preparation when starting the profession as well as their ongoing training and em-ployment their profession got international attention. This is due to the fact that teaching and learning conditions are most important for the development of pupils and students everywhere.
Special attention was given to teachers during the UN Transforming Education Summit on September 19, 2022, with relevant recommendations stating that teaching should be an attractive and recognised profession, taking into account that teachers need autonomy, decent working conditions, support and lifelong learning opportunities.
However, a year later, reality is quite disillusioning as we can see from the theme for World Teachers’ Day 2023: “The teachers we need for the education we want: The global imperative to reverse the teacher shortage”.
How come that this profession has suffered from attrition? For decades, the educa-tion sector has been chronically underfunded. Already in 2016, data analysis from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) estimated that in order to meet the targets of the SDGs by 2030, nearly 69 million more teachers were needed. Most recent estimates by UNESCO and the Teacher Task Force (TTF) confirm this number today, revealing that in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia alone, an additional 24 million teachers are required.
So what are the root causes and what should be done? Starting with the most im-portant reasons: The COVID 19 pandemic and its long school closures have even worsened an already dire situation. Becoming a teacher is simply no longer attrac-tive: teaching many pupils, put together in crowded classes in not adequately main-tained buildings and not being reasonably paid for the often exhaustive pedagogic work does not come along with incentives for this ambitious profession.
Disillusioned by these working conditions, teachers leave their countries for better paid teaching jobs in other regions (e.g. Caribbean teachers move to the US) or – even worse – quit being teachers in order to pursue other jobs.
With children dropping out of schools due to wars, conflicts or the ongoing climate crisis, teachers face new challenges all the time, their mental health is as endan-gered as the mental health of their pupils. And how can a child traumatized by war and escape, living in overcrowded refugee camps concentrate on school subjects? And what a challenge for teachers who might have made similar experiences but nonetheless try to convey hope and structure as well as a bit or normal life to the children in their lessons.
So what is teaching all about? It is about learning and changing your mind-set. Teachers can empower children of all sexes, can open perspectives for lives and therefore ignite change in millions of young pupils. Female teachers are often role models for girls, conveying self-esteem, questioning harmful gender norms. Teachers can educate green skills needed so much nowadays when we are taking the first steps, sometimes stumbling on our way to a green economy, no longer exploiting our planet.
Let me ask you: Do you remember when a teacher empowered you, believing in you? Hopefully you do and hopefully you could experience the power and the impact on your life.
This is exactly why we need qualified teachers so urgently, everywhere. Education is a human right that shall no longer be a privilege for few people, but an opportunity for all – including the possibilities of digitization and AI. All children and learners deserve it. And we need teachers to inspire all human beings, letting them thrive in order to restore and save the planet.
In my country, Germany, there is a saying: A teacher is much more important than two books. I firmly believe this is true.
Dr. Heike Kuhn is Head of Division, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Bonn, Germany Co-Chair of the Teacher Task Force (with South Africa), https://teachertaskforce.org/ Co-Chair of the Executive Committee of ECW (with Norway), https://educationcannotwait.org/
IPS UN Bureau