Professionalisation, the Status of Teachers and Quality Education

The EI submission to CEART (*) is based on extensive information received from affiliated education unions over the last three years. We saw that significant, if uneven, progress has been made in the availability of education in fulfilment of the Education for All MDG, but that progress also coincided with changes in approach in some countries that were not in the spirit of the Recommendations. Many “reformers”, for example, argue that teachers must be at the centre of improvements in education. That recognition is too often accompanied in the name of “accountability”, however, by initiatives that prescribe measurement and control teachers. In other words, a teacher is seen as important to education, but expected to give up autonomy and “perform” as others determine. The effect is to ignore or insult the profession of education and those who practice it. The difference between an educator and somebody who processes students is more than a nuance. It is the difference between an artist and one who paints by numbers.

Education plays a vital role in society and can provide opportunities for those who may have been excluded. But it is not a “magic bullet” that can solve all the problems of society. Students are not born in schools. They do not live in schools. They are shaped by a lot of forces other than schools and teachers. In that context, teaching to test scores rather than using tests as one tool to be employed according to the professional judgements of teachers is a serious confusion of ends and means.

Education International’s Unite for Quality Education campaign is built around three pillars; quality teachers, quality tools, and quality environments. It strives to combine quality with quantity. It seeks to ensure that teachers can carry out their important missions as respected professionals capable of helping young people transform their lives and be equipped for life as well as for jobs.

One of the things that we have discovered in recent years, including during the campaign is that, EI has gained recognition as the global voice of teachers by the OECD, by the UN, and by others. But, some of our affiliates, when they come to the global table, inform us that they are less and less consulted at home or that consultations took place after all of the important decisions had already been made.

EI surveys conducted in 2014 on Education for All and on the status of teachers have confirmed that anecdotal evidence. According to the more than 14,000 teachers in the Education for All survey, “education reform is imposed by government and 88 per cent of them do not feel consulted on matters affecting their professional lives”. The less extensive EI survey on teacher status showed that, “over half of respondents (58%) indicated that they are ‘never’ or ‘rarely’ consulted on pedagogical practice and a great majority (63%) noted the same for the development and selection of teaching materials”.
One of the recommendations that we made to CEART was that consideration should be given at national level to expanding the scope of collective bargaining to include education issues which are often, at the same time teacher working conditions issues. That might open up more space for teachers to participate and exercise their profession.

Although the EI submission to CEART covers many issues, one common theme is “de-professionalisation”. It is a widespread phenomenon that is found in all regions and in developing and developed countries alike. It is linked not only to lack of consultation, but also with insecurity of employment, “accountability” systems obsessed with measurement, growing occupational stress and related health issues, and the breakdown of a climate of collegiality and cooperation.

One aspect of de-professionalisation, directly linked to quality education, is the question of teacher qualifications. The recruitment and increased presence in schools of unqualified teachers was reported by many affiliates, including Mali, Niger, India, Indonesia, Senegal, the UK USA, Australia, and Chile. Similarly, on all continents, the ranks of education personnel are being swelled with precarious workers having temporary and fixed term contracts.
Our vision of education is inspired by the same experience and careful reflection that led to the development of the Recommendations that CEART is charged with monitoring. As the 1966 Recommendation puts it, “Education from the earliest school years should be directed to the all-round development of the human personality and to the spiritual, moral, social, cultural and economic progress of the community, as well as to the inculcation of deep respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms...” In that spirit, education should enrich the lives of students, encourage critical thinking, build tolerance and strengthen the foundations of democracy.

Fortunately, we are not alone. At the recent 5th International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) in Banff, Alberta, organised with the OECD, there were discussions that emphasised many of the substantive and values considerations contained in the Recommendations of 1966 and 1997, including the importance of collaboration among teaching professionals.

At that conference, the OECD explained the results of its latest Teaching and Learning Survey (TALIS). It confirmed what we are hearing from our affiliates. It shows that only about a third of teachers feel that teaching is a valued profession, but that in those countries where educators are valued, education works best. One of indications of being valued and one of the strongest findings of the extensive TALIS survey (100,000 teachers and principals in 34 jurisdictions internationally) is related to the teaching environment.

The TALIS survey clearly showed that collaborative teaching significantly contributed to learning, to influencing practices and to job satisfaction and efficiency; in other words, quality education. The most impressive examples of collaboration came from the Slovak Republic, Denmark, Italy, and Japan. They reported teaching jointly at least five times a year. Overall, however, “too many teachers still work in isolation. Over half report rarely or never team-teaching with colleagues and only one third observe their colleagues teach.

These findings of the TALIS report are consistent with the letter and the spirit of the Recommendations of both 1966 and 1997. And, in an effort to encourage real reform, the central proposal of EI to CEART was that “professionalisation” might be stimulated by the expansion to a broad range of “actors” of global dialogue along the lines of the cooperation with the OECD. Perhaps, serious and good quality global dialogue will help to inspire similar processes at the national level.

(*) The Committee of Experts on the Application of the Recommendation concerning Teachers (CEART) is a joint committee of the ILO and UNESCO composed of 12 Experts. It meets every three years and is charged with monitoring the implementation of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers and the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel. Every three years, EI makes a submission to CEART on the status of teachers based on a special survey and other materials reflecting the experience of teachers and their trade unions.. The full text of this year’s report is available here.


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Fred van Leeuwen

Fred van Leeuwen is the General Secretary Emeritus of Education International.

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