Editorial: Reflecting on World Teachers’ Day

World Teachers’ Day was instituted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1994, to celebrate the historic UNESCO/ILO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers adopted by an intergovernmental conference in Paris on 5 October, 1966.

Internationally, the day is celebrated on 5 October each year. In Australia, because of school holidays, it will be celebrated on 28 October in 2016. The theme for 2016 is “Valuing teachers, improving their status”, reflecting the uncontested role of education in human and social development. There is a poster for display in the centre of this Journal.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Recommendation. Why celebrate/commemorate it? Surely its work is done, at least in the developed world? Alas, no.

Not there yet

Consider these quotes from the 1966 Recommendation:

  • “45. Stability of employment and security of tenure in the profession are essential in the interests of education …”
  • “61. The teaching profession should enjoy academic freedom in the discharge of professional duties …”
  • “71. Professional standards relating to teacher performance should be defined and maintained with the participation of teacher organisations.”
  • “80. Teachers should be free to exercise all civic rights generally enjoyed by citizens …”

Compare that to the levels of temporary employment that persist, the prescription of teaching method and content, the current composition of AITSL without representation of teachers or their organisations, and the harassment of teachers involved in community, union and political campaigns. Clearly, the work of the Recommendation is on-going.

There is even a provision concerning decent housing and subsidised rental in remote areas, which remains topical in Queensland to this day.

At the heart of the Recommendation is this statement, which remains relevant: “6. Teaching should be regarded as a profession: it is a form of public service which requires of teachers expert knowledge and specialised skills, acquired and maintained through rigorous and continuing study; it also calls for a sense of personal and corporate responsibility for the education and welfare of pupils in their charge.”

Blaming the teacher

The role of the teacher is at the heart of education – that cannot be denied. Too often, however, the complexity and difficulty of that role is unrecognised and the profession denigrated.

The recent release of the OECD’s 2016 Education at a Glance report led to predictable, routine media coverage that class sizes don’t matter and funding doesn’t matter (even though they do) and it all comes down to the quality of the teacher.

In fact, what matters is the quality of teaching, which is a more complicated notion involving the combination of teacher, the curriculum, the resources, and the learning environment, including working conditions and workload.

But that more complex analysis does not allow blame to be sheeted home to teachers, the essential diversion from really considering causes.

An alternative

I have an alternative cause for the problems of education, such as they are: the failure of governments.

I submit:

  • The never-ending story of the Australian Curriculum, starting with the Howard government’s history facts (including four about cricket), the development of a curriculum, a challenge and revision based on history wars and culture wars, and finally a realisation of the difference between mandatory and aspirational.
  • On-going uncertainty of federal funding, five years after the Gonski report, making it difficult for schools to commit to programs and personnel.
  • Governments’ obsession with results of NAPLAN and PISA to the exclusion of considering and supporting the broader goals of the Melbourne Declaration of the Educational Goals of Young Australians (December 2008) that they all signed up to.

There is politics in everything we do, and always will be, but a little less in decisions about the education of the young would surely not go astray.

Celebration

So, on World Teachers’ Day 2016, let’s:

  • celebrate the achievements of teachers and the profession, notwithstanding the lead weights so often in our saddle-bags;
  • hold governments to account for their responsibility to provide the means and freedom to let teachers do their job; and
  • commit to realising in full the goals of both the 1966 Recommendation and the 2008 Declaration.

Happy World Teachers’ Day.

Graham Moloney                                                                                                           General Secretary


Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 121 No 7, 30 September 2016, p5