Worlds of Education

Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Aloyo Stella's Classroom: a reflection on the education we want

published 4 October 2023 updated 21 March 2024
written by:

“Despite the terrible conditions, we continue to support our students because we know our work is critical for millions of the most vulnerable children around the world. But we cannot do it alone.”

Aloyo Stella Oryang, refugee teacher.

At the heart of Uganda's Palabek Refugee Settlement, Aloyo Stella's classroom stands as a vivid reminder of how educators persevere despite systemic negligence and disregard. Born in South Sudan, Aloyo Stella lived through a decade of conflict before seeking refuge in Uganda at the age of 13. Now a committed refugee teacher, Stella embodies the tenacity of educators everywhere. As we mark World Teachers' Day, and reflect on her daily challenges, her story underscores the broader racial, economic, and structural inequities that educators face across the globe.

Overworked, underpaid, and undervalued

Teachers around the world are overworked, underpaid, and undervalued. They are exiting the profession, not out of lost passion, but due to an environment that barely sustains them. Deteriorating working conditions, stagnant wages, overwhelming workloads, and stifling bureaucracy are pushing teachers out of the profession they love and that the world needs. With fewer young people seeing teaching as a viable career, and a shortage of 69 million teachers reported by UNESCO to reach universal basic education by 2030, the crisis is clear and present.

The 2023 International Barometer of Education Staff (I-BEST) further describes the crisis contributing to the alarming teacher shortage, rising resignations, and a decline in those aspiring to teach. Based on a survey of over 26,000 educators including teachers, school principals, and support staff from 11 countries across four continents, the findings of the Barometer reveal an alarming rise of workplace violence, coupled with insufficient psychological and health support for educators, and significant issues related to work-life balance.

To reverse this trend, decisive political action is needed. It is imperative to fund public education, invest in teachers, guarantee their labor rights, and ensure they have good working conditions. Investing in education is not only about funding; it is about respecting the profession, valuing pedagogical expertise, and involving teachers in decision-making processes.

Yet, amidst these challenges, the Barometer, a collaborative effort with the Education and Solidarity Network, partnering with Education International and others, reveals an unwavering dedication: the majority of educators would willingly embrace their profession again.

Last year, the United Nations Secretary General spotlighted the teacher shortage, highlighting its potential negative implications for our future. The leading role of Education International in the work of the United Nations High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession ensured that the voices of teachers like Aloyo Stella were heard loud and clear. The Panel unanimously urged governments worldwide to develop economic and social policies to transform the role, status, and future of the teaching profession.

Education International, representing 380 organisations with 32 million educators in 180 countries, stands as the collective international voice of teachers. We are a movement. We're not merely highlighting the problem; we're steering the narrative towards solutions. Our global campaign, Go Public! Fund Education, emphasises the urgent need for governments to fully fund public education systems and invest in the teaching profession.

A Call to Action: ‘Do your part’

Aloyo Stella's voice echoed powerfully when she spoke at the Education Cannot Wait High Level Forum. “I wish you could stand in my shoes for an hour. You would understand where I am coming from,” she implored.

Her journey, though deeply personal, is emblematic of a broader struggle. Despite facing tribal tensions, inadequate infrastructure, and an unresponsive system, she perseveres. Her commitment, mirrored by countless educators worldwide, underscores the transformative power of teaching.

But her individual resilience should not blind us to systemic failures. On the occasion of World Teachers' Day, let's commit to structural change, ensuring that every Aloyo Stella, in every corner of the world, receives the resources, respect, and recognition she deserves.

For those shaping education policies: the future rests with our teachers. Stand with us. Advocate for increased public funding in public education. Ensure teachers are central figures in dialogues and decisions. Echoing Aloyo Stella’s poignant close: “-I am doing my part. Do your part.”

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.