This year World Teachers Day was commemorated through short, virtual sessions emphasizing teacher leadership during the pandemic from 5 to 12 October. The meetings were held by UNESCO, a non-profit organization aimed at promoting world peace, with the theme ‘Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future’.
Session discussions revealed a delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in meeting targets of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education and a need post-pandemic to accelerate progress. According to UNESCO, nearly half of the world’s students did not have access to internet and at times have limited possibilities to use other distance learning technologies.
Emeritus Fred van Leeuwen, general secretary of Education International, says their Africa Region survey about education during the pandemic, released on World Teachers’ Day, shows no meaningful learning took place during the pandemic. He says one thing learned from the pandemic is that countries with strong public-school systems are doing better in coping with the crisis than countries where schooling has been outsourced to the private sector. “Through continuous dialogue with teachers via their unions, we know plans can be developed that are fair, safe and workable and that there is a need for more and better teacher training, particularly in developing countries to ensure quality education. Some countries have tried to fill the gap in qualified teachers with ‘para-professionals’ and community volunteers, but we must be cautious in accelerating the use of technology including artificial intelligence which can result in de-skilling teachers.
Alternatives to this approach need greater leadership by teachers in shaping education. Teachers face other challenges and crises beyond the current COVID-19 pandemic and overall the early twenty-first century has not been an easy time to be a teacher with the decline in status and respect for the teaching profession globally.
“Education like healthcare is a critical public good that should not be placed at the mercy of markets. Governments need to take full responsibility and where possible ensure a safe return to in-school learning. We call on them to adhere to the World Health Organization, UNESCO and Education International recommendations on school reopening,” says Van Leeuwen.