Teachers at the top of Rocky Mountain summit

published 30 March 2015 updated 10 April 2015

Collaboration, leadership, and innovation are at the heart of talks at the Summit of the Teaching Profession, where Education International General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen made the case for teachers as the agents of change.

Addressing delegates during the opening of 5th Summit of the Teaching Profession (ISTP) in Banff, Alberta Canada, Education International (EI) General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen made clear the path to quality education: let teachers lead and let teachers teach.

Opening Remarks by Fred van Leeuwen

Thanks to Education Minister Gordon Dirks (Chair of the Canadian Ministers of Education Canada CMEC) and to our member organisations in Canada, in particular the Canadian Teachers Federation (CTF) and CSQ.

When we attended the first Summit back in 2011, no-one could have predicted that we would be celebrating its fifth anniversary in Banff. The fact that we are here is a testament to the hard work of everyone involved in the Summits for the past five years. And it’s a tribute to those whose idea it was in the first place; the NEA, the AFT and Secretary Duncan.

It’s also due to a growing recognition by an increasing number of jurisdictions that there is nothing more central to a successful education system than teachers. Education reforms cannot work without the commitment and engagement of the teaching profession.

To avoid misunderstandings - and contrary to what some of you may have heard elsewhere - yes, we are a profession. And we are determined to strengthen it and to withstand and reverse  dangerous trends - which we discussed at previous summits - trends of casualization, of our professional space and autonomy being squeezed by standardized testing, by high stake teachers evaluation and by the imposition of teaching and learning tools. We hope that our Summits can be influential in reversing some of those trends.

So I want to congratulate the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada for its vision in organising this year’s Summit and thank the OECD for its continuing support.

One thing is certain. In some countries education policies have evolved as a result of the Summits. So this year is a good time to bring together everything we’ve learnt and build on it. If we know that self-starting teaching professions are vital to the future of children and young people, what are the policy consequences?

Could I, as a gentle reminder, stress that education must be a public service. The social fabric of society relies on the success of its education system and particularly its schools. Young people’s equal access to high quality education depends on everything from fair funding and fair student admissions arrangements to targeted support for those young people most in need. We know this from the OECD’s own research.

So just as education systems must not be distracted by other competing agendas, such as the so called "Global Education Reform Movement" as exposed by Pasi Salberg, neither can the teaching profession. This Summit has the opportunity to explore how the collective wisdom and experience of our members can be at the centre of education reform.

Now, we have the data that proves what we, educators, have known all along: collaborative school environments that empower teachers create strong learning communities.

Leadership of the teaching profession can only come from organisations created and governed by teachers themselves-their unions and associations. Indeed, teaching is now among the most unionised occupation in the world. Teachers join their organisations not just for protection but to express their professional hopes, fears and values. Yet we know that the structures for enabling teachers to be involved in education policy making are less than adequate in many countries.

What then can we do to improve this situation; to create a new reality? Our discussions on teacher leadership, recognition and efficacy will give us a great opportunity to explore this question.

Which brings me to the third theme of our Summit-Innovation.

Technology is now integral to student learning. But it does not represent innovation in itself. It is what teachers do with it that is innovative. Technology gives teachers the opportunity to go to new levels of professional practice. And we want to explore those opportunities.

Education International has developed an international protocol for the use of new technologies in education and we have invited IT companies to subscribe to it. So far, Intel has done so. We have also urged governments to establish national plans developed with our member organisations developed with teacher unions and the educational community which would focus on the primary purpose of ICT- that of providing support for teaching and learning. We do not want new technology to simply be dumped in the school yard.

However, some global technology companies, particularly in highly decentralised education systems, place far too much pressure on schools to adopt inappropriate and expensive technologies.

We also became concerned about the infringements of student and teachers’ privacy rights when we learned recently that massive surveillance systems are in place to monitor students’ social media. In Europe, numerous technology companies have been found in violation of EU privacy laws but in a country like the US it seems companies have unlimited data mining potential.

Instead of spying on students we need to focus on how public education systems could relate to the new technologies on offer and start to answer the questions about how school communities can control their use rather that technologies controlling schools.

Looking ahead, we know there will be always new challenges for teachers, parents and young people and their communities. Global conflict, the challenges of globalisation and the new sustainable development goals are debates which have profoundly practical implications for teachers and classrooms.

We must tackle the practical challenges of implementing policies. We must embed our knowledge from what actually works. We must learn from feedback. We must go deeper into the relationship between practice and research. We could explore how to strengthen public education systems. These are just some ideas for the future, but really, the answers lie in a familiar place: our classroom teachers.

As governments, you have understood the importance of engaging in dialogue with the teaching profession. That dialogue will constitute the basis of quality education for all children and young people, which is what drives our profession.

We are confident that this fifth Summit will make another important step towards that goal!