» UNESCO World Teachers’ Day shines light on motivation and critical shortages
06.10.2016 - Education Sector

UNESCO World Teachers’ Day shines light on motivation and critical shortages


UNESCO celebrated a special World Teachers’ Day on October 5, 2016 with a look back at 50 years of valuing the vital work of teachers and a look forward to how many more are needed to fulfil the Global Education 2030 Agenda.

This year’s event, celebrated under the banner Valuing Teachers, Improving their Status, marked the 50th anniversary of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers and is also the first held within the new Sustainable Development Agenda. Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) contains a target which calls for an increased supply of qualified teachers.

Highlight of the day was the awarding of the two winners of the 2016 UNESCO-Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Prize for Outstanding Practice and Performance in Enhancing the Effectiveness of Teachers. This year’s winners were the University of Malaya, Malaysia for its Environmental Citizenship Education Malaysia 2005-2015 programme and the See Beyond Borders mentoring of teachers’ programme from Cambodia.

Education a foundation for peace

The prizes were jointly awarded by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and the Minister of Health of the United Arab Emirates Mr Abdul Rahman bin Mohammed Al Owais. Ms Bokova spoke of the unique ILO/UNESCO Recommendation. “The world has changed since 1966 – education has been transformed. In this context, more than ever, I believe we must remain true to the spirit of the 1966 Recommendation.

“Teachers are essential for empowerment, for societal progress, for peace and understanding. Times have changed -- our core message remains. Nothing can substitute for a good teacher. Putting education first means putting teachers first. This is why education is core to the 2030 Agenda. Education is a human right essential to dignity and empowerment. It is a force for gender equality, poverty eradication, sustainability. It is, fundamentally, a foundation for peace.”

The ceremony was followed by a high-level panel attended by the French Minister for National Education, Higher Education and Research Ms Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the Honourable Dr Mahali Phamotse, Minister of Education and Training of Lesotho, Mr Gilbert Houngbo, Deputy Director-General for Field Operations and Partnerships, ILO, and Mr Fred van Leeuwen, General Secretary of Education International.

Earlier at the opening Assistant Director-General for Education Mr Qian Tang reminded everyone of the global shortage of teachers. “To achieve SDG4, by 2030 we will need 69 million of teachers, 24.4 million at the primary level and 44.4 million at the secondary level. So we have a long way to go. Addressing the teacher gap requires our immediate attention. But we also know that quantity does not mean quality. We need qualified and motivated teachers, working in well-resourced education systems,” he said.

Keynote speaker Mr Marc Tucker, President of the National Centre on Education and the Economy, highlighted how the 1966 Recommendation had predicted the future for teaching on three counts: that it would come to be seen as essential to the economy, that there would be a significant shift from quantity to quality and that it would be necessary to consider it as a true profession.

What it could not have predicted were the consequences of the rapidly developing global labour market and the rise of automation which has left people lacking the new skills and quality education necessary to keep up with the job market.

“If countries fail to provide prosperity and people don’t see their lives becoming better democracies will not last. Our political future is at stake if we don’t solve the economic problems underneath which lie a problem with education and skills.”

Quality training, support and career progression

The day included an exhibition and thematic panel discussions on fifty years of teacher development in BRICS countries, teacher motivation across different levels of education and in crisis and emergency situations.

The panel on motivation in crisis and emergency situations had participants from UNRWA, UNHCR, Greece, Liberia and Haiti. UNRWA runs a school system providing free basic education for more than half a million Palestine refugee children and works in Syria, Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon and Jordan. Director of Education Caroline Pontefract said that even working in the most difficult circumstances putting teachers first in terms of quality training, support and career progression meant that UNRWA, according to World Bank data, had produced a school system that outperforms its host countries. 

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