The 10th edition of the International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) took place on 2 June 2020, in a webinar format. Co-hosted by Education International and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the ISTP brought together education ministers and education unions for a discussion on the impact of Covid-19 in education and how to ensure that education systems emerge stronger from this crisis.
All speakers recognised the essential role of teachers in navigating this crisis, overcoming challenges, and ensuring educational continuity for students. Educators’ leadership, resilience, adaptability, creativity, and dedication to their students were praised by all ministers who spoke during the Summit.
Opening the ISTP, Education International and the OECD shared global insights into the impact of the pandemic in education and the way forward.
Andreas Schleicher presented the findings of the new OECD report Schooling Disrupted, Schooling Rethought that looks at how the Covid-19 pandemic is changing education. The report is based on a survey conducted between 25 April and 7 May 2020 that received responses from government officials, education administrators, teachers, and school administrators in 59 countries.
Education International’s President, Susan Hopgood, highlighted Education International’s Policy Briefing for the Summit which included its Guidance for Reopening Schools and Education Institutions. Hopgood emphasized the essential role of an effective partnership between governments and educators before, during and after the crisis in building system resilience and supporting students. She also noted that the crisis has highlighted, not undermined, the importance of school communities to students’ learning and revealed the limits of technology in education. Stressing the disproportionate impact the crisis has had on vulnerable students, Hopgood proposed that governments and the teaching profession work together to conduct an equity audit in schools to identify those students who were most affected, evaluate their needs and provide appropriate support. The Education International President concluded her intervention with a call to governments to protect and enhance funding for education in the wake of the pandemic on the basis of equity and meeting students’ needs.
Summit discussions were structured around four themes, allowing time for both governments and unions to voice their positions in a constructive dialogue.
Theme 1: Social and policy dialogue between governments and education unions
Amid the global school closures and later, during the transition to onsite education, a strong partnership between governments and education unions has proven essential.
In many countries, the crisis has intensified the consultation and collaboration between governments and education unions for the benefit of students. The partnership model has proven very successful and has been of great help in building public trust and confidence in the solutions proposed for transitioning back to onsite education.
In addition, education unions have emerged as a vital source of information and support for teachers and education support personnel in times of crisis, helping to ensure educational continuity for students.
Theme 2: Innovations during the crisis and their relevance for the future
While governments and unions agreed that the crisis has advanced the use of education technologies, the digital divide is a major cause for concern. In addition, few teachers had had experience with emergency online education before the crisis, which emphasises the urgent need for teacher training on the use of technology for education.
Unions expressed concerns that in the economic crisis following the pandemic, governments could turn to technology and commercialisation as a way of cutting costs in education. Both unions and governments recognised teaching and learning as social processes and agreed that while technology can provide support, it can never replace the work of teachers. As one Minister put it, “technology and infrastructure are important, but the most important thing for quality education is quality teachers.”
While blended models will be implemented going forward, the role of teachers will remain central to education but unions emphasised that workload issues associated with blended learning had to be addressed.
Participants also stressed that in learning the lessons of this crisis, it is essential to conduct thorough research to be able to identify what worked and develop evidence-based solutions for the future.
Theme 3: Teacher professionalism, professional development, and collaboration
Ministers praised the leadership of educators during the crisis, the ways in which they came together as a community to share ideas, knowledge, and experience to support their students. One minister referred to the mobilisation of educators as the “precious silver lining of the crisis”.
While educators embarked on a remarkable upskilling to be able to connect with their students during the school closures, they need more support in the form of structured training and professional development going forward.
Theme 4: Pervasive inequities and building a more inclusive future of education
The many equity issues the crisis highlighted emerged as the main concern for both unions and ministers. The impact of the crisis has been unequal, affecting vulnerable students the most. In the words of one minister, “schools are vital to children from underprivileged homes”. They provide a safe environment, nutrition, socialisation and learning.
Many vulnerable students were not able to access distance education. In addition, some will have experienced trauma during the quarantine. Therefore, as one union noted, the first priority when going back to school should not be catching up academically but supporting students to recover and reconnect. Both student and teacher well-being had emerged as major issues as had student disadvantage.
Unions called on governments to provide much-needed investment to ensure education systems are inclusive and equitable. In the words of one union leader, “students are counting on governments and unions to work together for them”.
In his closing remarks, Education International’s General Secretary David Edwards stressed that the quality and equity we want for education systems can only be built by providing teachers with the right tools, adequate time to train and collaborate, and mutual trust between systems and people.