Time for educators to undergo change and start fresh
If you ask any educator what it is about their students that keeps them going, they will tell you that it is the moment when they see the light go on in a student’s mind and they finally “get” what they have been learning. Our “aha!” moment came when world leaders gathered at the United Nations for a meeting dubbed the “Transforming Education Summit” and organized by Secretary General António Guterres to address the reality of the worldwide education crisis.
The meeting of world leaders at this summit is intended to hasten efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4: ensuring that all children have access to a basic level of education. It is the first time that world leaders have paid such close attention to education, which has been hit hard by the effects of the pandemic, including a reduction in funding and a worsening of existing inequalities.
This is a once-in-a-generation chance for educators around the world, including the 32 million educators from pre-K through higher ed who are represented by our global federation’s 383 unions, to assess the aspirational and practical nature of world leaders’ commitment to real change. Is it for real? Does it have a foundation in facts and practical knowledge? Does it involve working with teachers’ groups and unions around the world?
How do real promises manifest themselves? Extremely easy. Put your students first and make a promise to them. Not just words, but action just as serious as the dedication their teachers show. To ensure quality, equity, and inclusion in public education systems, governments must safeguard the right to education and take responsibility for doing so. The global spread of so-called “low-fee” private schools, the increasing corporatization of public education, and ill-advised public-private partnerships all pose serious threats to the integrity of the educational system and its ability to provide equal opportunity for all students. Good education is a public good and a human right. Education systems must be held accountable and not handed off to the markets as the EdTech industry, ballooned by the epidemic and still largely evidence-free, continues its effort to insert itself into schools.
Funding for public schools should be a priority for every country’s government. Education budgets around the world are in the red right now, putting educational institutions in peril. There needs to be a greater commitment from governments to public education, both in terms of total funding and as a percentage of the total. Communities and institutions should receive funding from fair budgeting plans that direct those funds where they are most needed. We need domestic and international tax justice to ensure that all companies pay their fair share of tax and that loopholes are closed in order to increase the size of national budgets. Governments around the world are being watched closely to see if they will finally see education as an investment rather than a cost.
Teachers are the main focus of this expenditure. Unless governments are willing to invest in teachers, it will be impossible to provide a high-quality education to all students. It is a human right for every child to have access to a trained educator, and we can estimate that 69 million more will be needed by the year 2030. Unfavorable working conditions and low salaries, however, make it more difficult to attract and retain qualified educators.
Teachers need a fresh start. Teachers need to be respected, valued, and compensated fairly if they are to stay in the classroom for their entire working lives. Workloads must be reasonable, there must be genuine separation between work and personal life, and the environment must be conducive to their emotional and physical health. Teachers should have negotiated salaries on par with those in comparable professions to avoid working in precarious conditions. Governments should stop hiring contract or inexperienced teachers and other measures that undermine the teaching profession.
The people who work in schools, both as teachers and in support roles, are crucial to the success of any educational system. Teachers are in the best position to identify learning barriers, strategies to prevent knowledge loss, and effective strategies for enhancing educational systems because they are the ones working directly with students every day. Professional educators are prepared to take the reins after the UN summit is over, contributing our extensive knowledge to the ongoing global conversation and pledges. Globally, education is improving thanks to increased social dialogue and collaboration between unions and education systems.
John Dewey, a philosopher of education, made the observation that the interaction between a teacher and a student is where learning truly takes place more than fifty years ago. Raising our sights and accomplishing our goals as a country can be accomplished in the same way that it is done in the classroom or its hybrid equivalent.
By promising to overhaul their education systems on the international stage at the United Nations, national leaders have sent a message to teachers, communities, and their own people that a fresh start is necessary and that high standards in education are essential. That’s why educator groups like the AFT are rallying behind the Secretary General: to show the world that in the face of adversity, we can still come together and show the world how to reform education.