World Teachers Day is an ideal moment to reflect on the status of the world’s teachers. Today, Education International will release its triennial report on this very issue. Education is at the centre of improvements to living standards and quality of life, yet we now increasingly face pressures and threats that are all too real. The future of work, platform capitalism, technological developments and increasing inequity are all creating systemic conditions that require us to take a long hard look at the way our teachers are being regarded and supported. If we are to face the future with confidence it is critical we analyse the facts. Over 50% of our affiliates report that their countries are facing a shortage of teachers. Yet the conditions that teachers are being asked to work in are deteriorating. This is particularly true of our primary schools. This does not only impact the teachers, but also the students that the teachers are preparing for a rapidly changing world.
Much is being said about the fourth industrial revolution and the need for a well-educated and adaptable workforce that continues to learn through life. Emphasis is increasingly put on critical thinking and problem solving skills amongst our students. Yet scant regard is paid to either the working conditions or the professional support offered to teachers. We must ensure that classrooms built around the learning relationship between student and teacher will have reasonable class sizes and that the students will be able to see the same teachers over a number of years. This is becoming more difficult as precarious working conditions increase, with nearly 50% of teachers not having permanent employment as reported by our affiliates.
Our report is a wake-up call to governments that while it is more accepted that education is essential to a peaceful and co-operative future, they need to put their money where their mouths are. The growth of privatisation in the education sector and its iniquitous effects are reported across the board with 90% of unions pointing to an increase in this approach. Almost half of parents have to contribute either fully or partly to their children’s educational costs.
Inequities continue to expand. 79% of our African unions report that teachers have to travel long distances to collect their pay. 64% of unions cite inadequate housing, access to latrines and water in schools. Conditions which adversely affect all in the education community, but have an even bigger impact on women. Workload continues to rise with 41% of women in Japan reporting that their working environment adversely affected their experiences with pregnancy and childbirth. This has to stop.
Despite all this teachers unions are actively standing up to defend their rights and status. Education International joins with them all in saying it is time to invest in education and in teachers. It is time to listen to teachers unions because they are uniquely placed to know what is happening in schools and what support is needed so that students get a better educational experience. No educational system can exceed the quality of its teachers. And no system can succeed without institutionalising a dialogue with the representatives of teachers on the frontlines.
This means involving teachers unions in curriculum and resource development, bargaining with them collectively, providing decent working conditions and paying them properly. Salary continues to be the biggest issue affecting teachers. With a global teacher supply problem these issues will not be solved with words, but with actions.