Credits: ISOPIX
Credits: ISOPIX

Elevating Teachers' Voices to the High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession

published 13 September 2023 updated 27 February 2024

Educators from around the world expressed their concerns about the global teacher shortage, sharing firsthand experiences which highlight the detrimental implications for their classrooms and school communities. Their testimonies were part of consultations organised by Education International to bring the voices of educators to the UN High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession.

Educators from various regions also addressed the need for comprehensive support to early-career teachers, affordable housing, teacher well-being, and mental health. There was also a call to acknowledge internal country disparities, with shortages often more pronounced in disadvantaged regions. Concerns surrounding gender pay inequity, teacher migration, and the climate crisis's impact on educators were also part of the discussion.

In his opening remarks, EI’s General Secretary, David Edwards, emphasized the significance of the Panel's draft recommendations, noting their alignment with EI's global efforts, particularly the Go Public! Fund Education campaign. "These recommendations will empower our unions during national negotiations, ensuring governments remain accountable. We're building upon the foundation set by the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers. Through this consultation, we're channeling the collective voice of our educators to the High-Level Panel, with our president, Susan Hopgood, leading the charge,” Edwards explained.

“We must understand the real cost of quick fixes to the global teacher shortage, like turning to untrained teachers,” he continued. “As we approach the Summit of the Future, a new vision for education will emerge. It's vital that our unions are not just witnesses but active contributors to shaping this new vision.”

Reflecting on members’ inputs, EI president Susan Hopgood noted that the key themes highlighted very much aligned with the concerns she has emphasised in the Panel discussions so far and committed to bring additional emerging issues expressed by members to the table at the next Panel meeting at the U.N. She further stressed the importance of holding governments to account to ensure that the recommendations are implemented.

From the Transforming Education Summit to the upcoming summit of the future

The High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession was a direct outcome of the United Nations Transforming Education Summit (TES). The TES identified the urgent need for a dedicated forum to discuss the multifaceted challenges faced by educators worldwide. Notably, Susan Hopgood, EI's President, serves as a distinguished member of this Panel. With the upcoming Summit of the Future in 2024, the recommendations from the Panel are expected to contribute significantly to the discussions.

Mike Thiruman, General Secretary of the Singapore Teachers Union and a member of the Panel, shared his perspective on the Panel’s work. He emphasized the importance of ensuring that the recommendations are followed through with concrete actions for implementation. He also expressed the aspiration to eventually elevate these recommendations to a status similar to a UN Convention, aiming to set a global standard for the teaching profession.

The panel will meet in person in New York this week to deliberate and adopt a set of recommendations. EI’s president, Susan Hopgood, will bring educators’ perspectives to the meeting and call for bold, ambitious recommendations to be adopted.

Teachers’ experiences: a global overview

Vivid narratives emerged from countries like Brazil, South Africa, and India, painting a picture of classrooms grappling with overwhelming student numbers due to teacher shortages. An educator from South Africa highlighted the cascading effects of this issue, with burnout rates climbing and fewer individuals considering teaching as a viable career. A Brazilian trade unionist also shed light on the challenges of ensuring quality education in crowded classrooms.

Educators from France outlined the challenges of retaining and attracting teachers, highlighting the impact of under-investment and the decline in purchasing power. A participant from Australia described the specific issues faced in rural and remote areas, such as STEM teacher shortages and the prohibitive housing costs for educators. In Finland, the lack of comprehensive data on qualified teachers and the impact of population decrease were brought to the forefront.

The conversation also spanned other systemic issues, with insights from countries like Thailand and Nigeria, detailing challenges ranging from inadequate infrastructure to the diminishing autonomy of educators in their own classrooms.

A significant part of the consultation was dedicated to solution-oriented discussions. Participants explored potential strategies to address systemic challenges and enhance the status of the teaching profession. In this context, the importance of increased public funding for education was emphasized by several participants as a foundation for improving teachers working conditions and salaries and address the global teacher shortage, in line with EI’s flagship campaign Go Public! Fund Education. The campaign calls on governments to fully fund public education systems and invest in the teaching profession as a prerequisite to achieve quality education for all and a sustainable future.