Education International
Education International

World Teachers’ Day 2010: honouring unsung heroes in our society

published 24 March 2011 updated 24 March 2011

Teachers are the guarantors of continuity during and after natural disasters and other crises. By giving hope for the future and providing structure and a sense of normality, they help to mitigate the effects of conflict, disaster and displacement. Teachers provide much-needed psychosocial support to ease the trauma of children and youths who have witnessed extreme violence, or lived through the destruction of homes and the loss of family members. In countries affected by conflict, teachers are instrumental in peace-building. In other words, Recovery Begins With Teachers.

The annual World Teachers’ Day is a key moment to ’celebrate’ and raise the attention of public authorities, parents, and the general public to the key role teachers play in building strong and democratic societies through their teaching and guidance. At a time when the economic crisis is impacting on the whole of society, it is important to stress how important education and training are. They are at the core of economic growth, as well as social and cultural development for a sustainable future for all. And yet, despite this, with the commercialisation and privatisation of education, the teaching profession worldwide is facing the risk of casualisation.

Many teachers must live with precarious working conditions on short-term contracts. Examples can be found across all sub-sectors of education where teachers and academics are being paid according to the learning outcomes of their students or the position of their educational institution in ranking tables. This goes against the fundamental rights of teaching professionals, as stated in the 1966 and 1997 UNESCO/ILO Recommendations on the status of education personnel.

Despite their increasingly uncertain professional situation, teachers continue to contribute positively to the society and community in which they live. It is therefore crucial to give teachers a voice in the decision-making processes. Consequently, EI participated in UNESCO’s World Teachers’ Day event in Paris, where teachers from Haiti, Mali and Laos, among others, gave evidence on the role of teachers in recovery of their society. The event featured a ‘Tribute to Teachers’ photo exhibition, inaugurated by the UNESCO Director-General, and the official World Teachers’ Day Ceremony was broadcast online via podcasts and video interviews. EI, which co-signed the official statement with the ILO, UNDP, UNESCO and UNICEF, also joined a panel discussion at this event.

Celebrating teachers

Beyond the offical inter-governmental agencies’ event, many of EI’s member organisations across the globe organised activities to celebrate World Teachers’ Day.

In Azerbaijan, Canada and Liberia, unions organised events in which they gave out recognition of excellence or long-service awards to outstanding educators. In Taiwan, our member organisation gave out a ‘Super Teacher Award’ to a teacher who is creative in the classroom and inspires other colleagues. The same happened in Uganda where President Yoweri Museveni declared that 5 October would become a national holiday.

Some teacher unions organised creative or sportive celebrations of the profession. In Côte d’Ivoire, a teachers’ union organised a panel discussion on the theme followed by a football tournament composed of eight teams of educators. In Malaysia, teachers participated in their annual World Teachers’ Day ‘walkathon’ and in St Lucia teachers took part in a national talent show.

Promoting rights

World Teachers’ Day is also a day when teachers’ unions reaffirm their rights. In Cambodia, teachers marched across the capital to ask for better salary and an increase in the education budget. In France, seven EI member organisations issued a joint letter to the President Nicholas Sarkozy to denounce the year-on-year reduction of teaching positions. Teacher organisations in Albania, Dominica, the Gambia and Sri Lanka organised media outreach events to publicise their demands for better teaching and learning conditions. Meanwhile in Algeria, the teacher unions organised a sit-in before their Education Minister to protest against low wages and rising inflation, as well as an increasing number of temporary contracts for teachers.

Teaching and learning continues even on World Teachers’ Day in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a workshop was organised for teachers on the new education law.

World Teachers’ Day is when teachers and pupils remember their counterparts in parts of the world where teaching and learning rights are denied. In Belgium, 97,312 pupils from 308 schools in Flanders rang their school bell at 3 o’clock in the afternoon to call for the Education For All goal to be met (www.savedbythebell.be ).

This year, two songs were written for World Teachers’ Day. In Singapore, a song entitled ‘In this moment’ was composed as a tribute to all Singaporean teachers. In Canada, teachers were honoured with a song entitled ’You have made a difference’. Available in both English and French, the song has already been played 75,000 times on Youtube.

Social media activity

EI strives to reach grassroot teachers and educators as much as possible to help promote the 1966 and 1997 recommendations for all educators. By employing social network media such as Twitter and Flickr, EI has managed to get a virtual conversation started on World Teachers’ Day, accumulating hundreds of tweets on our Twitter board in the run-up to 5 October. These tweets not only drive traffic to the www.5oct.org website, but also to the links EI posts, such as those to the official statement and various UNESCO videos.

Thousands of teachers and members of the public tweeted in their language, from Catalan to Norwegian, while bloggers blogged about World Teachers’ Day and its importance or the status of educators in their country such as Ireland and Romania.

Queen Rania of Jordan, who has been an ardent advocate of Education For All, also played her part by honouring the teaching profession. On World Teachers' Day, she tweeted in both Arabic and English that " Teachers have been our guardians and guides for generations. Show a teacher your thanks on World Teachers' Day.”

EI also translated the official World Teachers’ Day poster into as many languages as possible. This year, apart from the more prominent language groups, posters appeared in Hungarian, Slovenia, and Indonesian.

As EI’s General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, declared in the official EI press release for World Teachers’ Day: “ At a time when the world faces an unprecedented shortage of qualified teachers, when 10 million more teachers must be recruited and trained to achieve internationally agreed goals of quality education for every child, marking World Teachers’ Day is a small step to pay homage to millions of extraordinary heroes in our global community.”

So, thank you, teachers for being such extraordinary heroes.

By Harold Tor

This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 36, December 2010.