“Teachers: Leading in Crisis, reimagining the future” – UNESCO Celebration of World Teachers’ Day 2020

published 12 October 2020 updated 14 October 2020

World Teachers’ Day was created by UNESCO in 1994 to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 International Labour Organization (ILO)/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers and the 1997 Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel. In 2020, it was celebrated in short, virtual sessions from the 5th to the 12th of October.

The sessions were organised around subjects and regions. Similar to the World Teachers’ Day event of Education International, “Teachers Take the Lead”, the UNESCO meetings were held with the title, “Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future”. They emphasised teacher leadership during the pandemic. UNESCO, with the ILO, UNICEF, and Education International agreed a joint statement with the same theme for World Teachers’ Day 2020.

According to UNESCO, nearly half of the world’s students did not have access to internet and, at times, had limited possibilities to use other technologies of distance learning. Sessions included discussions of the delay caused by the pandemic in meeting the targets of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education and the need, post-pandemic, to accelerate progress. They also focused on the psycho-social dangers to teachers.

There was also discussion of the 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. The same danger may arise from the temptation to try to further de-skill teachers by accelerating the use of technology, including artificial intelligence. It was argued that alternatives to that approach require greater leadership by teachers in shaping education.

In an overview for the discussion in the context of the 1966 and 1997 Recommendations, UNESCO wrote:

“Teachers face other challenges beyond the current and other crises; overall the early twenty-first century has not been an easy time to be a teacher. There has been, without doubt, a decline in the status of the teaching profession globally, and respect for teachers more generally.”

UNESCO representatives participated in the Education International’s marathon event and there was an address by Education International’s General Secretary Emeritus Fred van Leeuwen, to the opening session of the UNESCO meeting. He outlined some of the findings of the survey of Education International’s Africa Region on education during the pandemic released on World Teachers’ Day showing that “no meaningful learning” had taken place during the pandemic. He also invited the more than 500 participants in the meeting to tune in to the Education International’s “Teachers Take the Lead” World Teachers’ Day event. On education during the pandemic, van Leeuwen cited some things that have been learned,

“ONE lesson we have learned is that countries with strong public-school systems are doing much better in coping with the crisis than countries where schooling has been outsourced to the private sector. Like health care, education is a vital 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 upon them to adhere to World Health Organization, UNESCO and our own recommendations on school reopening. And we know that in continuous dialogue with teachers through their unions, plans can be developed that are fair, safe and workable.”

For the full remarks of General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen, see here.