With the United Nations General Assembly as the backdrop, Education International led the way on the largest global stage to mark 50 years of the ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the status of teachers.
With leaders from the worlds of education, politics and business gathering in New York City, EI, along with the Varkey Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative and the Brookings Institution came together to place teachers under the spotlight at the iconic New York Public Library to mark the occasion on 20 September.
“The Recommendation is far more than the text printed on the page. Greater than the sum of its parts. It first of all affirms the transformational role that teachers play in the lives of children, their families and in their communities,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen in his address at the Celebration of the Teacher gala event. Under the slogan‘Teachers Matter,’ he quoted from the Recommendation to reassert its recognition of “the essential role of teachers in educational advancement and the importance of their contribution to the development of man and modern society.”
The Directors-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNESCO, Guy Ryder and Irina Bokova, along with Global Teacher Prize recipient Hanan Al Hroub of Palestine and EI President Susan Hopgood joined van Leeuwen at the lectern.
In the years since the Recommendation was adopted in 1966, the world has changed many times over. But throughout those years the importance of teachers has remained a constant, which is why Education International (EI) is not celebrating its 50th anniversary as a monument to the past, but rather for the value and relevance of its ideas on education and the teaching profession for the present and for the future.
“Being a teacher is about moral purpose; about a commitment to making a positive difference in young people’s lives. And that commitment is on full display every day around the world,” said van Leeuwen before an audience of 250, which included the former Prime Ministers of Australia and Greece, Julia Gillard and George Papandreou.
A comprehensive set of principles, as well as a number of specific practices, are laid down in the 1966 Recommendation as well as the UNESCO Recommendation from 1997 concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel. The second Recommendation covers some of the same areas and has more detail on academic freedom issues and covers governance, autonomy, and other matters of particular concern to higher education personnel. The Recommendations create no divisions between “trade union” questions and “professional” ones. Both are related to the status of teachers, depend on teachers having recognition and representation, and largely determine the quality of learning.
In her closing remarks, Susan Hopgood reminded participants of “how essential our schools are to the public good. To our towns, cities, and countries, they are the source of our collective values. They are the engines of our democratic principles. And now is the time that we must reinvest our efforts and our financial resources to make public education the first and strongest option for our children and for our societies.”
Earlier in the day, leaders from EI's Executive Board took part in a hands-on, intensive workshop surrounding the Recommendation, the Sustainable Development Goals and the refugee crisis' impact on education.
With World Teachers’ Day only two weeks away, EI plans to keep attention focused on the Recommendation’s anniversary to let governments know that investment in public education cannot be underestimated and must be increased rather than privatised by corporate actors.