Held annually on 5 October since 1994, World Teachers’ Day commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 ILO/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, and 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.
With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education, and the dedicated target (SDG 4.c) recognising teachers as key to the achievement of the Education 2030 agenda, WTD has become the occasion to mark progress and reflect on ways to counter the remaining challenges for the promotion of the teaching profession.
World Teachers’ Day Celebrations in 2020
In 2020, World Teachers’ Day will celebrate teachers with the theme “Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future”. 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.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly added to the challenges faced by already over-extended education systems throughout the world. It is no exaggeration to say that the world is at a crossroads and, now more than ever, we must 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 WTD will also address the role of teachers in building resilience and shaping the future of education and the teaching profession.
Rationale for the choice of the theme
An unprecedented event, the COVID-19 pandemic challenges already constrained education systems in various new ways resulting in a revision of how teachers teach and more generally work. While the topic of leadership has been somewhat neglected amongst the multitude of issues facing the teaching profession in the push towards achieving the SDG 4 and Education 2030 goals, the issue of teacher leadership in relation to crisis responses is not just timely, but critical in terms of the contributions teachers have recently made to provide remote learning, support vulnerable populations, re-open schools, and ensure that learning gaps in the curriculum are being mitigated. The chosen theme also considers the role of teachers in building resilience and shaping the future of education and the teaching profession.
The COVID-19 crisis created a unique situation for teacher leadership, creativity and innovation to be demonstrated. Around the world, teachers are working individually and collectively to find solutions and create new learning environments for their students to ensure that learning could be continued. In most cases without much warning and with little time to prepare, teachers have had to modify or condense the curriculum and adapt lesson plans to carry on with instruction, whether via the internet, mobile phone, television, or radio broadcast. In many low-income countries, where there is poor or no connectivity to the internet or mobile networks, teachers have prepared take-home packages for their students. The move to online learning has required capacity for innovation and creativity never before attempted in order to keep children engaged and learning. Some teachers have even posted their lessons online for the benefit of all; others check-in with their students through WhatsApp, while others visit homes to pick up work and bring back revisions and feedback. Teachers have formed communities of practice and support groups through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Without much guidance or pedagogical support from education authorities, the frontline workers of the education sector are showing great capacity and flexibility to adapt to an ever-evolving situation in order to keep children and youth learning.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 released a “Call for Action on Teachers,” which among others, advocates for teacher-related responses including a role, in short, medium-, and long-term planning and policymaking for the continuation of learning and eventual return to school.
Beyond epidemic and pandemic situations such as COVID-19, HIV/AIDS and Ebola, teacher leadership in other crises including civil conflict, displacement, migration, climate change and other emergency situations is critical given they overwhelmingly impact teachers, their daily practice and presence in the classroom, effectiveness and motivation.
At its peak, the recent COVID-19 pandemic and associated school closures directly affected 1.5 billion students at all levels and 63 million primary and secondary teachers. In many cases, teachers were required to conduct online learning but lacked basic ICT tools in their own homes. In many places, teachers also found themselves unable to continue education because many households lacked the technology and connectivity to allow students to learn online. Globally, for instance, approximately 50% and 43% of learners, respectively, lack computers or the internet in the home. Teachers themselves are under significant strain and lack a network and system of psychosocial support from education leaders and the greater community. In many cases, teachers often have the double duty of looking after their own children at home while trying to teach online and facilitate the continuance of education and learning. This highlights the need for system-level leadership so teachers are not only equipped with ICT tools and connectivity to continue teaching but also benefit from adequate training and accompanying support.
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. Worldwide there is growing concern about the competence and qualification levels of teachers to the extent that families no longer systematically support teachers’ authority or the concept in loco parentis. In many countries, this can be attributed to teachers’ low level of qualifications and training. For instance, data show that in primary and secondary education in sub-Saharan Africa, only 64% and 50% of teachers, respectively, are trained. In some countries, including those in Western Africa and South Asia, it is also related to the practice of filling teacher gaps with a growing cadre of para-professionals and community volunteers. If this were not enough, the combined concern about competence and the drive to deskill teachers has led some prominent academics to urge a rethink of the very notion of “expertise,” suggesting that technology and artificial intelligence could soon make redundant many human tasks that were once the historic preserve of ‘professions,’ replacing them with automation.
Under ordinary circumstances, policymakers face critical challenges to identify which balance of policy options to recruitment, teacher education and continuing professional development, incentives, support and motivation offer an effective professional and personal development strategy for teachers and other education personnel to develop as leaders. During the COVID-19 crisis and the return to school—if these issues are not properly addressed—policymakers might miss the opportunity to develop a new cadre of talented teachers with a leadership mindset to effectively establish the new global, regional and country-level aspirations countries need in these challenging times.
One of the fundamental aspects of SDG 4 is the shift from the overriding issue of education access to quality and learning outcomes. Teacher leadership will be essential for inclusive and quality education and allows for a broader interpretation and greater role for teachers beyond their traditional role. It expands on teachers’ central role as leaders to improve the quality of teaching and learning.
Under the current international framework for education, the Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action recognises the key role of leadership. Under Target 4.c, it acknowledges that “teachers make a major contribution to the improvement of student learning outcomes…[.]” More precisely, it notes teachers’ leadership role not only in terms of instruction and curriculum, but also in terms of governance, efficiency, effective coordination, and monitoring and evaluation of learning and achievement.
Consequently, education stakeholders and global partners are increasing their focus on the issue of education leadership and how teachers, headteachers, principals and others play important roles. By choosing to focus World Teachers’ Day 2020 on leadership, UNESCO and its co-convening partners wish to draw global attention to this neglected issue and to invite education stakeholders to reflect on what teacher leadership means in the context of Education 2030. These discussions will also contribute to UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative which is exploring how knowledge and learning can shape the future of humanity and the planet.
As the global community commemorates World Teachers’ Day 2020, stakeholders and development partners should reflect on the recent COVID-19 crisis to examine the future of the profession – taking on board not just emergency preparedness, but also the role for teacher leadership in relation to the changing climate of education including inclusive societies, education for sustainable development, global citizenship education, climate change, and more generally to achieving SDG 4 to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong opportunities for all.”