World Teachers’ Day is celebrated internationally on the fifth of October. The day was set aside by the world community in celebration and recognition of the central role teachers play in nurturing and guiding infants, children, youth and adults through the life-long process of learning.
UNESCO designated October 5 as World Teachers’ Day in 1993. This day represents the appreciation attached to the vital contribution that teachers make to education and development.
On October 5 each year, teachers’ organisations worldwide, mobilise to ensure that their needs and those of future generations are taken into consideration.
Everyday, in millions of classrooms around the world, the universal endeavour of teaching takes place. The gift of literacy is passed on from one generation to the next, along with the love of learning and the thirst for knowledge. Whenever knowledge is shared, skills are gained transforming lives for the better.
The theme for 2008 is “Teachers Matter!” The shortage of qualified teachers remains one of the biggest obstacles to achieving full literacy. Committed and competent teachers are essential for students to achieve the gift of literacy.
Accordingly, this year’s activities are focused on professional training for quality education. Teachers’ unions around the world are calling on governments and other public authorities to develop and provide adequate training programmes – because teachers matter!
According to UNESCO, since 2000, the international community has made solid progress towards Education For All (EFA). Enrolment rates have increased dramatically especially in the developing world.
However, UNESCO, estimates that 18 million more teachers are needed worldwide if universal primary education is to be achieved by 2015. This is one of the much touted Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s).
The shortage of qualified teachers remains particularly acute in Africa, where an additional 3.8 million teachers are required if the UPE is to be achieved.
The shortage of teaches in countries such as Rwanda and Mozambique means an over-load in classes with as many as 60 pupils, per class. It is generally recognised that quality education cannot be provided in classes with more than 40 pupils.
“Even when the overall supply of teachers is sufficient, remote and disadvantaged areas across the globe may suffer persistent problems in recruitment and retention. This shortage of qualified teachers is one of the biggest challenges to achieving the Education for All (EFA) goals,” stresses a joint communiqué delivered to mark the Day by the following heads of international organisations; Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, Juan Somavia, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF, Kemal Dervis, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Thulas Nxesi, President of Education International (EI).
Quantity is not the only problem. Insufficient training is another serious handicap. In developing countries, it is not unusual to find teachers who have no advanced education themselves (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, UIS).
To improve the situation, only coherent policies can promote the recruitment of teachers in sufficient numbers, which guarantee their status and ensure quality training.
As a result of UNESCO’s Teacher Training Initiative in Sub-Saharan Africa (TTISA), in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has thus been able to develop an overall policy on teachers aimed at not only hiring more, but also at handling questions of status, working conditions and management.
World Teachers’ Day underscores the importance of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO recommendations concerning the status of teachers.
Another UNESCO recommendation concerning the status of higher education teaching personnel was adopted in 1997. Both recommendations lay down the guidelines on issues such as training and employment conditions for teachers; participation of teachers and their representatives in educational decisions; and measures that should be taken in each country to promote quality teachers and learning environments.
They are the only comprehensive international standards for the teaching profession in existence. In most of Africa, teachers have to contend with issues of low salaries, overcrowded classrooms, low job security, and inadequate training.
This day is an occasion to pay tribute to a profession whose role in the education of young people and adults remains essential yet in some cases undermined.
The emphasis this year is on developing teacher policies, the only foundation for ensuring sustainable and high quality recruitment.
The developing world and Rwanda in particular are in vital need of policies that are aimed at improving the quality of teachers, which will in future ensure quality education.
We are now living in the era of multi-media and ICT, and it is only prudent if teachers receive sufficient training in the use of ICT facilities.
Rwanda for instance is one the only countries to have adopted the “One Laptop Per Child” programme and for this to succeed, the teachers must be equipped with the requisite skills to assist the pupils use their laptops effectively.
The ICT and management training that head teachers around the country received at the beginning of the third academic term was a commendable initiative that needs to be rolled out to the benefit of all the other teachers. And this training should not be limited to only ICT courses.
Efforts should be made to help teachers to upgrade and attain better qualifications that will facilitate them to do their jobs better.
The theme for this year’s teachers’ day carries a lot of weight as it calls on all major stakeholders and policy makers to recognise the fact that teachers do matter.
Politicians, local leaders, head teachers, parents and even students all need to acknowledge this fact. This day was meant to represent a token awareness and appreciation of the members of this noble profession.
Once the usefulness of teachers is well understood then issues of teachers’ welfare will all be addressed accordingly.
Parents will be able to look at teachers as partners in raising their children and not just mere teachers in class. The students too will be in a position to respect and not fear or despise their teachers.
At the higher levels, teachers will be consulted and involved in major policy shifts concerning the education system of a country.