World Teachers’ Day brings professional freedom and empowerment into focus

published 5 October 2017 updated 6 October 2017

As the contributions and significance of teachers are recognised, this year’s focus has turned toward the diminishing freedoms facing the profession and the empowerment needed to allow teachers to work effectively in a challenging world.

With World Teachers’ Day shining a bright light on the crucial role that teachers play in helping strengthen society by bestowing children, youth and adults with the knowledge and skills to lead fulfilling lives, education leaders are drawing attention to an issue of increasing concern – professional and academic freedoms.

In too many places teachers are being stripped of the freedom and support they need to provide their students with a quality education. To bring these concerns to light, the theme of this year’s World Teachers’ Day – “Teaching in Freedom, Empowering Teachers” – makes it clear that teachers are only at their best when empowered, and unencumbered by the kinds of obstructions teachers face in their professional lives around the globe.

“Academic freedom is critical for teachers at every level of education, but it is especially critical for higher-education teachers, supporting their ability to innovate, explore, and stay up-to-date on the latest pedagogical research” reads a joint statement released by Education International (EI), UNESCO, the International Labor Organization (ILO), UNDP and UNICEF. “Across all education levels, political pressure and business interests can curb the ability of educators to teach in freedom.”

The statement describes empowered teachers as those professionals who have access to high-quality training, fair wages, and career-long opportunities for professional development. However, teachers must also have the freedom to support the development of national curricula, as well as the professional autonomy to best craft lessons.

To put words to action, leaders of Education International (EI) and its affiliates are spreading the message at events around the world.

General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen is taking part in the Albert Shanker Institute’s “Crisis in Democracy” conference in Washington D.C., while Deputy General Secretary David Edwards represents EI at UNESCO’s main World Teachers’ Day event in Paris.

As part of his remarks, Edwards will highlight the societal costs that accompany the quickly disappearing freedoms of academics in higher education. In fact, this year’s World Teachers’ Day also marks the 20th anniversary of the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel, which sheds light on the increasingly challenging working conditions of staff in higher education institutions.

Precarious working conditions, such as short-term contracts, in addition to the loss of freedoms, are cause for concern within the academic community. To provide these issues with the attention they deserve, EI is hosting a special 20th anniversary event at the Sorbonne in Paris on 31 October where leading academics, EI leaders and UNESCO representatives will release a report that tackles the core issues. More information on the event, which is going to be live-streamed, will be available in the coming days.