The International community celebrated World Teachers’ Day yesterday. It is an annual event held every October 5 since 1994 to commemorate the anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 International Labour Organisation (ILO)/ United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recommendation concerning the status of teachers. This recommendation sets benchmarks regarding the rights and responsibilities of teachers and standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, teaching and learning conditions. The recommendation concerning the status of higher-education teaching personnel was adopted in 1997 to complement the 1966 recommendation by covering teaching and research personnel in higher education.
The relevance of the Day became accentuated by the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education, and the dedicated target (SDG 4.c) recognizing teachers as key to the achievement of the Education 2030 agenda. The Day has become the occasion to mark progress and reflect on ways to counter the remaining challenges for the promotion of the teaching profession.
To mark the day, there was a joint statement from Director-General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, Director-General, International Labour Organization (ILO), Guy Ryder, Executive Director, UNICEF, Henrietta H. Fore and General Secretary, Education International David Edwards. In it, they not only recognised the role teachers play in society but also their leadership and innovative skills. This can be gleaned from the excerpts of that joint statement.
“In this crisis (referring to COVID-19), teachers have shown, as they have done so often, great leadership and innovation in ensuring that #LearningNeverStops, that no learner is left behind. Around the world, they have worked individually and collectively to find solutions and create new learning environments for their students to allow education to continue. Their role advising on school reopening plans and supporting students with the return to school is just as important.”
The theme of this year’s event “Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future”, in the opinion of this newspaper, captures it so succinctly. The day provides the occasion to celebrate the teaching profession worldwide, take stock of achievements, and draw attention to the voices of teachers, who are at the heart of efforts to attain the global education target of leaving no one behind.
It is obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly added to the challenges faced by already over-extended education systems throughout the world. In our view, it is no exaggeration to say that the world is at a crossroads and, now more than ever, all hands must be on deck to work with teachers to protect the right to education and guide it into the unfolding landscape brought about by the pandemic.
The issue of teacher leadership in relation to crisis responses is not just timely, but critical in terms of the contributions teachers have made to provide remote learning, support vulnerable populations, re-open schools, and ensure that learning gaps have been mitigated. The discussions surrounding the Day will also address the role of teachers in building resilience and shaping the future of education and the teaching profession.
In the midst of the pandemic, teachers spent countless hours working overtime to create new lessons from scratch, and redesign assignments to work in an online environment.
Most teachers also spent their vacation time pushing for more coronavirus safety measures in schools and working with institutions to create the safest possible reopening plans. Others fought for the right to work remotely rather than risk exposure to Covid-19.
In the meantime, the challenges posed by the pandemic brought home the immense contribution of teachers to the child socialisation process as parents found themselves trying to juggle working from home, childcare, and helping kids with remote learning. Parents themselves saw the need for the education authorities to improve and enhance the working conditions of educators arguing that they should be paid more.
In Nigeria, the plight of teachers have been made worse by the outbreak of COVID-19. For those in the private sector, there is no record that they received their pay within the period of the lockdown when schools were shut. Their counterparts in the public sector barely fared better. This was even as they continued to innovate on how to keep the pupils and students busy deploying online facilities.
In our considered opinion, it is an aberration that the teaching profession is seen more or less like a charity work where practitioners are expected to accept pittance as salary. The working condition is nothing to write home about as even the poor wages are paid months in arrears if at all. Part of the problem is the low budgetary provision for the education sector which, we insist, deserves to be improved upon.
We hope that the lessons of COVID-19 will not be lost on the authorities regarding the urgency of upgrading not just the infrastructure in the education sector but also the working conditions of the teachers themselves. It is something that must done and expeditiously too.