World Teachers' Day: when will there be real recognition?

4 October 2021

Recent crises, whether health, political or natural, have highlighted the indispensable role of teachers, those everyday heroes on whose shoulders rests nothing less than the future of tomorrow's children and citizens. Celebrating them once a year, on October 5 for example, World Teachers' Day, is certainly indispensable but not sufficient given the conditions and risks in which they work. Aide et Action is calling for the teaching profession, which is often relegated to the background, to finally be honored after the intense sacrifice of the last two years. 

Since its adoption in 1994 by the United Nations, the World Teachers' Day is an annual opportunity to highlight and honour the teaching profession and to take stock of the progress made and the many challenges they face. Each year, it is common to recall the extraordinary work carried out by these everyday heroes, whose mission, which is becoming increasingly complex, consists of bringing young sailors or shipwrecked people to safety and training the generations of tomorrow, not only by giving them the basics of education but also of morality, world citizenship and solidarity. Their role is all the more impressive in times of crisis: in addition to guaranteeing essential learning, they facilitate the return to normal life, offer essential psychosocial support, allow the trauma to be forgotten and give the opportunity to rebuild oneself through knowledge. 

Everyday heroes

During the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers around the world have shown tremendous creativity, energy and leadership to educate our children against all odds. They have delivered their lessons via new technologies, via radio or television, they have created self-help groups on whatsapp, they have rethought content, they have found new ways to communicate with their students, to keep them interested despite the distance and to follow them one by one. In many low-income countries, where access to the Internet and telephone networks was limited or non-existent (globally, about 50 % and 43 % of households, respectively, do not own a computer and do not have access to the Internet), teachers prepared homework assignments for their students, conducted small group lessons, especially for the most marginalised populations. They went door-to-door, distributed school meals, and visited families to encourage them to prioritise their children's education during this difficult period. They did not count their hours, nor their efforts. They continued, at all costs, to ensure the education of their pupils. But at what cost? 

An unprecedented crisis

Successive crises have exacerbated the extremely difficult conditions in which they were already working. The COVID-19 crisis was particularly revealing from this point of view and added a considerable workload on the shoulders of the teachers: some lost all their salaries during the closure of the schools, others had to buy their own materials, they had to invent courses themselves for lack of suitable teaching resources, they had to innovate and create new ways of communicating, often in absolute solitude, without any training or support. All these difficulties have been added to an already difficult situation: a very low salary, a lack of adequate training, and an excessively high teacher-student ratio. The real question is what is being done about education? Teachers lack resources and support, especially psychological support. We are alone with our classes. Parents see us as a commercial product and when their children are in difficulty, they call the after-sales service so that the directors question their recruitment."A French teacher told the newspaper Libération on 14 September.

Many teachers today feel alone, despised by parents and their superiors alike. According to a joint UNESCO, UNICEF and World Bank survey on responses to COVID-19While the survey found that only half of the countries covered by the survey have offered their teachers additional training on distance learning, and less than a third have offered psychosocial support to help them deal with the crisis. The pandemic has dealt a fatal blow to teachers' morale, motivation and livelihoods. Not surprisingly, these difficult conditions have added to the distress of many already stretched teachers and led to a high number of resignations. It is now estimated that 69 million teachers are needed worldwide to ensure universal primary education by 2030, in line with the United Nations' sustainable development goals (more than 24 million for primary and 44 million for secondary education), i.e. close to the total number of teachers in primary and secondary education in 2019. However, few countries today can escape a severe shortage of teachers. The profession is no longer a dream and has not been for a long time. 

Teachers on the front line

It does so all the less because the various crises have shown above all that beyond the difficult conditions, teachers are now on the front line of all wars, victims of attacks, exposed to the worst dangers and scourges, risking their health and their lives. The French History-Geography teacher Samuel Paty, cowardly murdered last November, will forever remain one of the too many faces of these martyred teachers, who have become the target of fanatics because of their knowledge and the freedom of thought they represent. The teaching profession is no longer a trivial one, it is today a risky profession, an essential key for the future of our children, for the world of tomorrow, for tolerance and peace. Not giving teachers the recognition and respect they deserve is therefore intolerable, inadmissible, especially in view of the sacrifices of the past and the threats to come. 

It is not only a question of increasing their salaries. It is also imperative to improve their working conditions with quality initial and in-service training, to provide them with help, support and resources, and to provide appropriate teaching resources, develop their leadership skills to support quality and inclusive education at all levels. Only teachers will be able to keep up with the numerous and multiple crises that will unfortunately disrupt our daily lives and those of our children. Strengthening their resilience, their capacity to adapt, to lead, to invent and to create is therefore not a gift we are giving them but an opportunity we cannot afford to miss. The future of our world depends on it.

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