October 5 is internationally recognized as World Teachers’ Day. As a writer who has had of late an obsession with this idea of days celebrated as International or World days, I could not fail to note today since I am also a teacher.
Yes, it is our day! The day, which has been observed annually since 1994, commemorates teachers’ organisations world wide. Its aim is to mobilise support for teachers and to ensure that they continue to effectively meet the needs of our future generations.
According to UNESCO, World Teachers’ Day represents a token of the awareness, understanding and appreciation displayed for the vital contributions teachers make to education and development.
Education International (EI), a global union that represents education professionals worldwide, promotes its celebration. Over 100 countries observe World Teachers’ Day.
Every year, EI launches a public awareness campaign to highlight the contributions of the teaching profession.
The theme for this year’s World Teachers’ Day is ‘Quality Teachers for Quality Education’.
In other words if the quality of education is to be ensured, the teachers must be the starting point. Many times, policy makers inaccurately think that the development of education requires simply building new classrooms and laboratories.
They make plans without focusing on the need to support and cultivate good teachers. Teachers are indeed very important to the development process of any country. No country can be more developed than its education system.
This is true because the products of a country’s education system are the ones that inherit and thus take charge of a country’s development.
They will fill the hospitals, industries and offices. If they are not skilled then the country will never develop. And if development is channelled through the country’s education system then the teachers must be cared for.
To achieve quality education, we need to have quality teachers. If one teaches in elementary school, they should be qualified to do so. A teacher handling an adult literacy class also ought to be aware of the basics of adult and community education.
The Ministry of Education must set high standards for potential teachers and join hands with the private sector to set up the necessary infrastructure to train teachers, such as universities and teacher training institutes, to meet the huge demand for teachers.
I once observed in the Teacher’s Mind column (Wednesdays in The New Times) that the teaching profession faces one of the highest defection rates because teachers are grossly underpaid and thus changing to better paying jobs.
This calls for those concerned to also ensure that there are enough institutions producing future teachers to feed not just the demands of the education system but to also fill the gaps left by the ‘defectors’.
Technological changes have also provided a big challenge to the teaching profession. New technologies keep coming up that many teachers are not conversant with. Take the dynamics of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for example.
Many teachers in Africa are computer illiterate. It is a sad but curable situation. Short computer lessons for teachers can be organised to assist them to also access the merits of the computer world.
A computer literate teacher is certainly a quality teacher because he/she can use the technology not only to typeset exams but also access the internet for further information that can be beneficial to both the teacher and the learners.
Teachers definitely deserve initial and ongoing professional development that gives them an opportunity to gain and to develop professional skills and stay up-to-date with new information and pedagogical techniques.
In this way they will be able to pass on quality education to their learners who will in turn be responsible for the development of a country.
In order to improve the quality of teachers, a decent working environment must be in the picture. Here a safe and healthy learning environment for teachers and learners, appropriate class-sizes and adequate academic resources in the classroom need to be put in place.
Teachers should also always be involved in policy making to ensure that the new policies do reflect the reality of the classroom.
Many times parents, students and even government officials demand miracles from the teachers without considering the reality on the ground. As is always the cry, the emoluments of teachers should also be decent enough to allow them decent living conditions.
This is supposed to address the problem of teachers always leaving the profession for other vocations that are considered better paying. Teachers should demand for better collective bargaining to defend and enhance their rights.
Working conditions, as well as quality assessments of teaching procedures, must be negotiated between representatives of the government/employers and the representative education unions.
Employers should value the role teacher’s play instead of looking at them as desperate workers whom they are ‘helping’ by giving them a job.
This year’s World Teachers’ Day should give all of us an opportunity to reflect on the working conditions of teachers all around the world.
Some teaches are working in very insecure places. In such places, it is not unusual for the fighting forces to kill teachers without thinking of the damage that they are inflicting onto their societies.
During the Rwandan genocide many teachers were killed and this caused an acute shortage of teachers in the country, a problem that still affects us today.
As a teacher, I would like to urge fellow teachers, students and their communities to endeavour to get the message across that better working conditions for teachers mean better conditions for learners.