5 October 1999

Teachers: a force for social change 



United Nations Educational, scientific and cultural Organization (UNESCO)


International Labour Office (ILO)


United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)


United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)


As the century draws to a close, we take this moment to acknowledge the vast contribution of teachers across the globe in awakening potential and fostering the fundamental capacity of human beings to seek knowledge, to disseminate information and to share their collective wisdom. Never has there been a more educated century, yet never was there a more pressing need for cooperation and understanding among the peoples of the world.

Teachers can awaken the sense of social justice that is essential to building peace and sustainable development on a foundation of strong social policies centred on social progress, justice, democracy and the eradication of poverty. In their daily work, teachers offer ideas, provoke ways of thinking and acting, instil principles, values and ideals. Teachers, educators and their organizations play a crucial role in the process of expanding access to education, as an effective response to the scourge of child labour. Free basic education, defended by teachers as an inherent right, is universally acknowledged to be a key in removing an estimated 120 million children between the ages of five and 14 years from full-time work and providing for their social integration. Teachers are a tremendous force for bringing about these social changes.

As the backbone of the education sector, teachers assume responsibility for the most challenging assignment in the world - that of developing the potential of children as they set out on their individual paths "to learn", "to do", "to be" and "to live together", the four pillars of education identified by the Commission for Education in the Twenty-First Century chaired by Jacques Delors. Teachers are instrumental in giving children that unique first glimpse of the possibilities of life and in perpetuating the quest for knowledge through lifelong learning.

Always in the intellectual vanguard, teachers occupy a central role in advancing and developing ideas - nurturing critical thinking skills and the thirst for knowledge in learners. This task becomes more challenging in today’s information society. In the knowledge economy, teachers need more than ever to ensure quality outcomes for students in literacy, numeracy and life skills.

Today, we pay homage to the untiring efforts of teachers as they prepare today’s children for the future. Their professional commitment, despite sometimes poor working conditions, limited resources and inadequate remuneration, has helped the world move forward. Teachers need the active support of the communities and societies that they serve, through the implementation of the guidelines on good practices contained in the ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers.

On the occasion of World Teachers’ Day, jointly initiated by Education International and UNESCO and now also supported by ILO, UNICEF, and UNDP, we appeal to the world community, to governments, parliamentarians, parents, community leaders, the media, non-governmental organisations, civil society institutions, the private sector, educational institutions, teachers unions and associations at the international, regional and national level, to renew their commitment of support to teachers, who are and will remain in the coming century, the core of the education system.

No amount of meaningful social change or educational reform can truly be brought to fruition without the active participation of teachers as partners.

Federico Mayor Juan Somavía
Director-General Director-General
Mark Malloch Brown Carol Bellamy
Administrator Administrator
Executive-Director Executive-Director