World Teachers’ Day: We are present, we remember, we take action

published 4 October 2021 updated 21 October 2021

On 5 October, World Teachers’ Day, Education International and its member organisations pay tribute to teachers, education support personnel and union members lost to COVID-19, reminding the world’s governments of their responsibilities to ensure safe working conditions and vaccine equity.

“Together we honour the teachers we have lost during the COVID pandemic, celebrate their lives and legacy, and recommit to making safe working conditions and vaccine equity a reality for all across the globe,” said David Edwards, Education International’s General Secretary, while opening the global tribute event.

Adding that as Education International and its members take part in events all week to commemorate World Teachers’ Day under the UNESCO, ILO and UNICEF theme - Teachers at the Heart of Educational Recovery, he explained that Education international “felt that in addition to these events and as the news poured in over these last 18 months of the steady and increasing losses in one and then another country, we needed to pause as these are not numbers, they are human beings who lost their lives in service to their students and colleagues doing that which mattered most.”

Paying tribute by continuing to fight for better, safer and more dignified conditions

Edwards explained that: “We pay tribute to them by continuing to fight for better, safer and more dignified conditions that benefit the people who teach the future. We pay tribute to their legacy as part of this whole which truly is greater than the sum of its individual parts.”

“As teachers we bear a great responsibility,” he also highlighted. “Our work is helping children learn and grown and reach their full potential. We are friends, allies, and mentors with great influence over young minds. The bonds we build in our classrooms often last a lifetime. This is why the loss of so many teachers is especially heart-breaking for students. As we mourn the loss of so many educators, we can find comfort in the fact that their spirit lives on in all the students they taught, motivated, and inspired along their careers.”

Edwards reiterated Education International’s demand to vaccinate all teachers and regretted that many colleagues are teaching under difficult and unsafe conditions.

To honor colleagues around the world, Education International launched a memorial website – www.teachercovidmemorial.org, gathering profiles from teachers and school staff who have died during the COVID pandemic. Each one represents an incredible loss to their families, our schools, and our communities.

“Together we honour the teachers we have lost during the COVID pandemic, celebrate their lives and legacy, and recommit to making safe working conditions and vaccine equity a reality for all across the globe.”

Education International’s General Secretary, David Edwards

ITUC: Without educators and central workers, the world cannot continue

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), also shared a message for the educators of the world.

“There is no doubt, you can be really proud of the resilience, the tenacity and the commitment to quality education that indeed we have seen from all educators all around the world throughout the pandemic. We already knew that the teaching service was indispensable to the lives of people everywhere, to the educational opportunity for a secure future, but COVID showed us just what central workers can do. When you couldn’t go to school physically, you transferred lessons online. You didn’t let students wherever was possible be isolated from the connectivity of being associated with their classrooms, with education, but also from the connection as human beings with each other.”

For her, “the world as recognised finally that without teachers, without healthcare workers, without other essential service workers, the majority of whom are women, then our world cannot continue.”

“You continued to provide services even as your own lives were at risk, even as you have seen your colleagues fall sick, as you have lost members of the teaching profession to this insidious pandemic,” she recognised.

Burrow added that: “The ITUC family stands firmly beside you. Decent work, just wage, safe and productive working conditions you deserve to be valued in all ways possible so you can indeed continue to serve the quality education that our students everywhere are entitled to.”

ILO: Teachers will play a critical role in building back after the pandemic

“Teachers are a central part in all our lives and in every one of our societies. This has never been clearer than during the COVID-19 crisis,” underlined Guy Ryder, Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

He expressed that teachers played a critical role in keeping education open for millions of students worldwide, and that this required enormous sacrifices. For example, teachers had to take on additional workload, master new technologies for distance learning, and prepare new lessons.

“When teaching face to face, their chances of contracting the virus of course increased,” Ryder said. “And this of course on top of family and other responsibilities which became more challenging because of the pandemic. So let me pay tribute to these educators and their sacrifices, and in particular let’s remember those who lost their lives or who face a long road to recovery. What happened to them is devastating to their families to students, to schools and to communities.”

Tributes, from poetry, to art, and music, where shared in honour of educators all over the world. From the United States, Mexico, Senegal, India, Uganda, Paraguay, Palestine, Taiwan, Spain, Hungary, Japan, Brazil, South Africa and others.

The teacher tribute ends with a message of hope and resilience brought by Argentinian unionists who found strength in their solidarity and their community.

Report assesses status of teachers and the teaching profession in an era of COVID-19

On World Teachers’ Day, Education International also launched its 2021 Report on the Global Status of Teachers and the Teaching Profession, which surveyed 128 education union leaders and officials in 94 countries and across all levels of education. The report points to system wide conditions which are failing to attract a new generation of educators to the profession. The continued teacher shortage undermines the right of every learner to be taught by a qualified teacher.

Authored by Professor Greg Thompson, Queensland University of Technology in Australia, it outlines the factors affecting the status of education workers worldwide, such as pay and working conditions, as well as professional autonomy and the portrayal of teachers in the media.

Some of the main findings include:

  • Teacher pay is too low, conditions are deteriorating, and infrastructure to support teaching and learning is not a priority for government investment. Over 42 per cent of respondents stated that there had been a deterioration in teachers’ working conditions over the last three years. 84 per cent indicated that salaries had decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Workload has intensified. Over 55 per cent of respondents stated that workloads were unmanageable. Over 66 per cent of respondents felt that “administrivia” requirements were contributing to the excessive workload pressures for education professionals.
  • Teacher attrition was reported as an issue at all academic levels, with primary education (33.1 per cent) the highest and higher education (17.3 per cent) the lowest. 48 per cent of respondents think the teaching profession is not an attractive profession for young people.
  • Precarious employment is growing. Almost 60 per cent of respondents pointed to the use of casual and short-term contracts to employ teachers and academics. In some settings, including sub-Saharan Africa and South-West Asia, many contract teachers described receiving less pay than permanent teachers, inadequate professional support, and poor working conditions.
  • Continuous Professional Development remains insufficient for teachers. Many perceived it to be of poor quality, not directly relevant to the issues that teachers were facing, and came at personal financial cost without clear career benefits (see tables 106-112).

“What are we learning in this pandemic? First, teachers and Education Support Personnel have gone above and beyond for their students. This report is a clear indication that governments need to make an urgent investment in teachers and the students they educate. Increasing teacher salaries and reducing workload is essential to recruit the best people into the profession and ensure quality education for all,” stated David Edwards.

He also mentioned that “an intelligent professional agenda requires a collective, joint negotiated plan with the profession. This should be seen as a foundational move towards intelligent professionalism. The joint development of the Global Framework of Professional Teaching Standards by Education International and UNESCO is exemplary in this regard.”

To access the full report on the Global Status of Teachers and the Teaching Profession, by Thompson, G. (2021), please click here. The executive summary can be found here.