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    Young teachers: the future of the profession

    October 05, 2019

    Today is World Teachers’ Day
    Young teachers: the future of the profession

     Some years ago, while following a training course in London, I was waiting at a metro station when an advertisement pasted on the opposite wall of the platform caught my attention. It had just four words. Four words I will never forget. “Those who can, teach”.

    Indeed, the advertisement, which called on those willing to become teachers to apply to the education authorities, contained a powerful message - not everyone can teach. It takes something special to become a teacher – a person who guides the destinies of thousands of children over several decades of service. Our parents are our first teachers, but from age 5-6 onwards the teachers take over until we leave the education system (school or university) as worthy citizens.

    Teachers not only teach you lessons from textbooks, but they also teach the lessons of life. In a way, it is the latter that finally makes you a fine man or woman, someone who is useful to society and others around you. It is the teachers who mould good future citizens. And having had a mother who was a teacher herself, I know that all too well. To her, all students were her sons and daughters, not just her own children. That is how teachers think. It is a noble, selfless thought. Teaching is undoubtedly one of the noblest professions on Earth. Teachers are people worthy of celebrating for what they bring into our lives: knowledge, discipline, values and skills.

    It is these special people that we will be honouring today on World Teachers’ Day (WTD). Although we should be bearing in mind their contribution to make us what we are today, having a special day helps the society to focus on what more should be done to recognize and reward teachers.

    Falling on October 5 every year, it has been celebrated worldwide under the auspices of UNESCO and Education International, the global teachers’ trade union, since 1994. The declared aims of the WTD are celebrating the teaching profession and improving international standards for the profession, mobilising support for teachers and ensuring that the needs of future generations will continue to be met by teachers.

    Young people

    In 2019, World Teachers’ Day will celebrate teachers with the theme, “Young Teachers: The future of the Profession.” In this regard, a joint message from UNESCO, ILO, UNICEF, UNDP and Education International stated: “With the theme: “Young Teachers: The Future of the Profession,” we recognize the critical importance of reaffirming the value of the teaching mission.

    We call upon governments to make teaching a profession of first choice for young people. We also invite teacher unions, private sector employers, school principals, parent-teacher associations, school management committees, education officials and teacher trainers to share their wisdom and experiences in promoting the emergence of a vibrant teaching force. Above all, we celebrate the work of dedicated teachers around the world who continue to strive every day to ensure that “inclusive and equitable quality education” and the promotion of “lifelong learning opportunities for all” become a reality in every corner of the globe.”

    Knowledge, values and ethics

    Young teachers will be able to make an even bigger contribution if they are given more recognition, resources, training and facilities – in other words, empowered. It is recognized that teachers are not only a means to implementing education goals; they are the key to sustainability and national capacity in achieving learning and creating societies based on knowledge, values and ethics. However, they continue to face challenges brought about by staff shortages, poor training and low status.

    The bottom line is that the world needs more teachers to realise the education goals of the newly announced UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs include a specific objective under Goal 4 by 2030 “substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States”.

    The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) estimates that to achieve the goal of universal primary education by 2020 all countries will need to recruit a total of 12.6 million primary teachers. The world will need to recruit 25.8 million school teachers to provide every child with a primary education by 2030 and nearly 60 million teachers for all grades. This total includes the creation of 3.2 million new posts and the replacement of 22.6 million teachers expected to leave the profession due to retirement and other reasons. However, 96 countries are still struggling to achieve universal primary education. According to UIS projections, only 37 countries (39%) will have enough primary teachers in classrooms by 2020 and the share will rise to 56% by 2025.

    In countries that do have Universal Primary Education, schooling is compulsory for both sexes at least up to 14 years of age. Sri Lanka is one of the few developing countries with exemplary education statistics that often match those of the developed world, thanks to its free education policy, which covers the entire student life from primary grades to university. There has been no discrimination whatsoever towards girls in this country, in sharp contrast to several other countries in our region and other regions. But the lack of teachers for certain grades and subjects is an acute problem here too. Even if a school has all physical facilities such as desks and chairs, good classrooms, lab facilities and playgrounds, no school is truly complete without good teachers. One cannot think of education without thinking of teachers.

    True, Government teachers are among the poorest paid public servants and they deserve to be treated on par with the dignity and honour attached to their noble profession. Government teachers are also forced to undergo tremendous ordeals and inconveniences due to transfers, entailing disruption of their family lives. They are also lacking in housing, health insurance and other facilities common to other public servants. The schools they serve in, particularly in the rural areas, are without basic facilities that are often highlighted in TV news bulletins.

    Time was when the teaching profession was looked upon with awe and reverence and teachers enjoyed recognition and respect as prominent citizens of society. One recalls the status enjoyed by the good old “Iskole Mahattaya” in the village who was considered an oracle of sorts, to whom villages flocked to, for advice and counsel. Sadly, this phenomenon is no longer in existence, the passage of time, like with everything else taking a heavy toll on old values and practices. This change in the times is even reflected in the conduct of our teachers who hardly have time to spare for their charges caught up in the rat race.

    The perception of teaching as a profession is not all that rosy here and in many other countries. There should be a renewed drive to recruit trainee teachers which stresses the fact that teaching is a rewarding experience in more ways than one. Quite apart from any monetary consideration, good teachers always take pride in moulding good citizens who are useful to society. That is one of the perks of being a teacher and only a very few other professions can make the same claim.

    More training should be given to those who are already in the profession, with attention to career enhancement and technology skills. Teachers must also evolve with the times, because even printed textbooks and traditional blackboards could go out of style in a decade or so. Teachers should be empowered in a variety of ways to make better societies in the future. But as per this year’s Teachers Day theme, young teachers will be better equipped to pick up these new skills fast.

    An attractive profession

    Teaching must be turned into a more attractive profession and modern teaching aids and technology can help it to become a more dynamic, much sought-after vocation. In this context, there may be an opportunity for teachers and schools to leapfrog straight to the 21st century through the “Cloud Smart Classroom” (tablets, smartboards etc.) concept now being trialled at selected schools islandwide. There are no physical textbooks or notebooks in this system developed by a Sri Lankan software company with the fullest cooperation of educational authorities.

    This is the future of education in every sense of the word. The physical presence of a teacher in a classroom may not even be necessary in the future as technology develops. Already, the system allows a student to download the lessons from home if he cannot attend school due to illness. Thus the classroom is not confined to the four walls in the school, it can (virtually) be anywhere in the world. Our education system must adapt fast to changing times.

    But should there be a world without teachers? I, for one, would not like to see them go away. ‘Live’ interaction with a teacher makes lessons more interesting and rewarding. The human element is very much a part of education and in my opinion, it can never be entirely replaced with machines which can however be an invaluable aid. Long live the teachers of the world.





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