5th October is International Teachers’ Day and we would like to join the world to remember and celebrate our teachers. We all know and agree that teachers are very critical in the education of our children. Some may argue that with the advances of technology, the role of the teachers is diminished and perhaps soon we shall have no need for teachers. The truth however is that we shall continue to need teachers even as technology advances but, the difference is that the role of the teacher is changing. Besides in many countries in the Commonwealth, we are still grappling with issues of access and cost of technology and also with the challenge of skills for both teachers and learners to effectively use technology. So as we celebrate the World Teachers’ Day, we wish to call upon governments and institutions to truly and strategically plan for ways and means to make our teachers’ work more fruitful.
A lot has been accomplished in the last decade to increase access to education and to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Education For All (EFA) goals. A number of governments have committed resources towards Universal Primary Education (UPE) and towards Universal Secondary Education (USE), and as the Commonwealth of Learning that believes in “helping developing nations improve access to quality education and training”, we wish to commend these governments for these efforts. However a lot still needs to be done. In the last decade whilst we were able to get many children into schools, the massive increase in numbers of these children may have compromised quality. One way of ensuring this is to ensure quality teachers and teacher educators. Teacher preparation is as important as teacher deployment so comprehensive strategies are needed; strategies that will address gaps and challenges with teacher preparation, teacher deployment, supervisory support and teacher remuneration and motivation.
This is perhaps more urgent today than it was yesterday because of advances in technology, changes in the role of the teacher and the type of skills needed of graduates. There has been a proliferation of technologies and with more demands and expectations for teachers to integrate these technologies in teaching and learning. Whereas many stories abound of teachers successfully and innovatively integrating technologies and embracing their new role, there is also perhaps a larger number of teachers still struggling with issues of access and capacity and thus needing a lot of support. Teachers in limited resourced circumstances need to be commended because they make do with the very least while helping children learn. Unfortunately, they sometimes get bashed by the community and the government without remembering that the teachers did not have much to enable them carry out their duties effectively. So can we on this day remember these teachers and celebrate them but perhaps resolve to go beyond celebrating them but make every effort to support them better; taking into account their different needs and circumstances.
One last thought as we celebrate this day.
We would like in a special way to call attention to teachers in conflict and disaster areas. As we all know, there are many conflicts and disasters scattered across a number of countries in the Commonwealth and in other parts of the world. For example, we have the sad situation in Nigeria with Boka Haram abducting school girls, Kony has for years terrorized Northern Uganda and although he has been pushed out of Uganda, he has simply shifted his attacks to Central African Republic; West Africa is being ravaged by Ebola, and there are thousands of people displaced by conflict in Ukraine, Southern Sudan, Syria and other parts in the Middle East.
In all these cases of either conflict or disaster, education suffers greatly and in some cases heavily ruined thus contributing to underdevelopment for generations to come. In many of these cases of conflict or disaster, schools are closed or destroyed, children, parents and teachers are displaced, while in some cases schools are set up in internally displaced persons camps with very poor infrastructure, and with fear and uncertainty prevailing. The physical and mental suffering of teachers, parents and children is sometimes unimaginable and yet in the midst of all that teaching and learning takes place! There are many unsung heroes in these situations – children who brave the harsh conditions to get to schools or to learning centres, parents who daily release their children to walk to these centres or schools without any guarantees that their children will return and teachers who despite all these uncertainties struggle to provide education and often times psychosocial support as well to these children.
What, you might ask, is the Commonwealth of Learning doing to help deal with the issues raised here.
- COL has come up with a solution to address issues of connectivity by use of an innovative technology APTUS which is an ‘off-grid, offline virtual classroom where learners can still benefit from digital resources and learning networks’. This can be innovatively used in refugee camps to provide access to high quality learning materials
- COL supports institutions promote training and continuous professional development of teachers using Open and Distance Learning methodologies that have potential to be used to reach the unreached who are unable to attend full time training.
- COL also believes and promotes the development and use of Open Educational Resources (OER) and has huge bank of OER and has also put together a Directory of Open Education Resources as one of the strategies of addressing needs of high quality learning materials. To specifically address the needs of teachers, COL has in collaboration with different institutions developed various resources for supporting teachers and teacher educators who may not have access to high quality teaching learning materials. For example, COL in partnership with a number of institutions developed OER for English Language Teaching (ORELT) which is currently being used to support teachers in rural schools in Kenya.
So, as we celebrate World Teachers’ Day, let’s remember these teachers who continue to serve in the difficult circumstances of war, conflict or disaster. They courageously reach out to children even when they themselves are in need of help.
We cannot expect to secure the future of our children when we are not adequately preparing, supporting and remunerating the people with whom the children spend an average of 7 hours each day during their formative years – that is nearly 30% of their time each day. In cases where the children are sent to boarding schools, a common practice in many developing countries, the children spend an average of 200 days a year in schools; that is nearly 55% of their time each year. This becomes even more complex in disaster or war situations. It is therefore imperative that we work together (parents, teachers, local communities and governments) to support these key players in the lives of our children.
Teachers are our unsung heroes and on this the World Teachers day, as we sing about them, let’s remember to keep the song running for without teachers, we cannot guarantee our children’s future.