Worlds of Education

Thematic Series:

World Teachers Day

#WorldTeachersDay | Lessons from the Pandemic: “After the Virus: In Teachers We Trust”, by Pasi Sahlberg.

published 2 October 2020 updated 5 October 2020
written by:

What is the X-factor that helps schools through the current global health crisis? Lessons from around the world tell us that where schools have flexible curriculum arrangements, creative approaches to real problem-solving, and confidence in collective professional wisdom of teacher as leaders, navigation through the tough times gets easier. It is all about trust in teachers to do what is best for every child in their schools.

Every crisis has a silver lining. So does this one. It may not be exactly what many people would hope – transformed education, rethought schools, or reimagined learning. It may, actually be much better than that, if we play our cards right. Teachers may finally be recognized as essential frontline workers, as trusted professionals. That would change everything.

Much have been said and written already about how the pandemic has been shaking up many things in our lives. It has disrupted the way we live, work and communicate with one another. It is also changing how we teach and learn. Some of these changes may have permanent consequences, some others may go away as we grow out of this crisis.

The pandemic that has been able to close down entire societies, including their education systems and economies, has been a real ‘stress test’ for governments and their ability to handle unpredictable complex situations. One strategy has trumped all others. Most heads of democratic nations have consistently relied crisis management on advice from their medical and health experts. In other words, political decisions about coping with the crisis and the way ahead have been made based on the best of what science and research can offer.

Now, we know that this is not what often happens in reforming education systems. More often than not, efforts to improve teaching and learning in schools have been motivated by political promises and ideological interests rather than research-based evidence from the best available experts. It is not uncommon that large-scale education reforms are designed in rush by non-educators and then implemented top-down without proper expertise on how complex change in schools successfully happens.

Who are those who understand better than anybody what schools would need instead to improve teaching and learning for all children? The teachers. In some countries where the teaching profession is held in high prestige, the road through the pandemic caused disruption has been easier than in places where teachers are not treated as professionals and capable to decide how to solve wicked problems. In other words, those who trust teachers tend to have brighter future.

After the virus is gone (if it ever will), we should ask less ‘what’ to change and more ‘how’ desired change should happen. Even if we get the ‘what’ part right but fail to realize ‘how’ to make it happen, we will find ourselves in the same disappointing situation where reforms end up being mostly failures. A necessary condition is that the politicians should trust teachers and their collective professional wisdom in transforming education for the uncertain future just like they have relied on virologist and health scientists in combating the virus until now.

As I have written elsewhere, “in transforming schools we should learn to rely less on policy-driven reforms and more on successful ideas that have worked in various cultural settings, and powerful networks that are spreading them without the mandate of the authorities.”


On 5 October, Education International marks World Teachers’ Day with a 24-hour virtual broadcast spanning the globe. Teachers everywhere will come together to share what they have learned as a profession and how we can ensure inclusive equitable quality education for all moving forward.

The full programme, featuring teachers from across the globe, as well as Presidents, Prime Ministers, Ministers of Education, heads of international organisations, famous journalists and scientists, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and many more, is available at >www.5oct.org/programme/>.<>

The event will be livestreamed across all Education International platforms and you can register here.

All streaming links will be available on the day at >www.5oct.org/watch/>, with interpretation to English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, Russian and Japanese.<>

Join the global conversation on October 5!

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