Education, schools and children will ultimately pay the highest price as the global financial crisis hits communities everywhere, EI Vice-President Patrick Gonthier warned participants in a Round Table held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on 3 October to commemorate World Teachers’ Day 2008.
Facing such a grave economic threat, it is even more important that unions use their legitimacy in policy development to guarantee quality education as a public service, Gonthier said. He was speaking on a panel with representatives of the ILO, UNESCO and UNICEF on their involvement in policies for teacher development.
The World Teachers’ Day event gave teachers from different regions of the world a welcome opportunity to speak out about the realities in their schools. In addition policy experts also discussed the improvements urgently required by the teaching profession.
UNESCO estimates that 18 million additional teachers worldwide are needed to achieve universal primary education by 2015. This year’s theme focused on teacher training and policy development as key measures to address the alarming shortage of teachers jeopardizing achievement of the Millennium Development Goal of quality basic Education for All.
Georges Haddad, UNESCO Director for Higher Education, opened the event by welcoming the participants to celebrate teachers as the “pillars of the human adventure.” He stressed teachers’ passion and love for their jobs and their pupils, which help to build societies of knowledge and understanding.
Teachers from Togo, Malaysia, France, Morocco and Haiti spoke of their countries’ key challenges in the attraction, recruitment and retaining of qualified staff, from dealing with overcrowded classrooms of up to 130 pupils to juggling several jobs in order to support themselves and their families.
Kokou Mawunyo Ayedze, National Coordinator of UNESCO Associated Schools in Togo, explained that trained teachers are in the minority in public schools. By comparison, there is a high percentage of auxiliary teachers who work in precarious conditions with no professional development or potential for salary increases. “Some auxiliary teachers work up to 18 years at the same salary level and no national insurance coverage,” he said.
The current financial crisis has worsened the already difficult living conditions of teachers in Togo. Extremely low salaries, on average 43 euros per month, too often force them to take up night jobs to meet their basic needs. Finding adequate housing can be a nightmare, especially because teachers are required to pay up to 24 months rent in advance. Overcrowded classrooms only add to the distress of teachers and students who are striving to achieve the goal of Education for All.
Asha B. Dass, a teacher of English with 20 years experience in Malaysia, explained the government’s policy on professional development. In 1994 the Malaysian government created the “Master Teacher” position as a way to improve the status of the teaching profession. Until then, there were no prospects for promotion or improvement for classroom teachers. In order to get better salaries and employment conditions they had to abandon teaching for a position in the Department of Education or as a headmaster, which resulted in schools losing qualified staff. “Education loses when promotion begins,” she said.
Jean-Pierre Loubet, a teacher educator from France, spoke of his teaching in rural schools, which are often referred to as “a teacher’s punishment.” His extensive experience working with immigrant children led him to develop an intercultural pedagogy.
“In the teaching profession it is essential to establish a link between the teacher, the student and the family,” he reiterated. On the other hand, French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s current education agenda is having a severe impact on the prospects for teacher training. The massive number of jobs cut increases the workload for remaining teachers, who become reluctant to undertake further training to meet the ever-increasing demands.
A teacher union representative from the Syndicat National de l’Enseignement in Morocco, Najia Abdelkarim, said because teacher training and education is standardised, many teachers lack the expertise in specialised subject areas. The Moroccan government’s mass enrolment policy is a step in the right direction. However, the resulting overcrowded classrooms pose daily challenges for teachers.
Gilbert Buteau, Assistant Coordinator of UNESCO Associated Schools in Haiti, said it was difficult to make education a priority in a country where 60% of the population live on less than one dollar a day. There is no formal teacher education policy, and 92 per cent of schools are private and not subsidised by the state.
Haitian schools face great difficulties in recruiting teachers because of low wages and the language of instruction is French, which is spoken by only 15 per cent of the population, most of whom are native Creole-speakers.
The recent hurricane disasters have added significantly to the misery of teachers, with schools destroyed, classes disrupted and students traumatised.
All teachers concluded that the image of the teaching profession needs a serious lift which can be achieved by open dialogue and sustainable development policies to improve the status of teachers.