On the final day of the UNESCO Global Education Meeting (GEM), held in Brussels 3-5 December, David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International, addressed over 300 government ministers, officials, international organisations, civil society and academics, and called on governments to invest more in education and teachers. His remarks sent a clear message to the education community and wrapped up 3 days of involvement in the meeting from a strong EI delegation including teacher leaders from Senegal and Tanzania.
The GEM, convened by UNESCO and hosted by the Government of Belgium, aimed to take stock of progress towards the global education targets and commitments in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to identify strategic priority areas requiring political guidance and intervention for the effective achievement of the global Education 2030 agenda. In particular, it focused on how to reduce inequalities in and through education, ensuring that we truly honour the SDG commitment to “leave no-one behind”.
Teachers make quality education possible
Speaking on a high-level panel on teachers and educators, Edwards urged governments to demonstrate stronger political will to achieve SDG4 by investing in education and in particular in teachers, as, without teachers SDG 4 cannot be achieved. He stressed that domestic financing, coupled with adequate and predictable external financing and support is vital for inclusive, free and quality public education for all to become a reality. Adequate resources must be spent on quality initial teacher education, continuous professional development, and decent working conditions to ensure quality education for all.
According to Edwards, “Teachers and education personnel and their unions, by virtue of their membership in Education International (EI), are committed to the promotion of an education that helps develop a person’s capacity to live a fulfilled life and to contribute to the wellbeing of society.” He added that, “what society owes teachers is support, respect and acknowledgement of just how challenging and important their role is.“
Strong EI presence at the GEM to ensure teachers were a priority issue
Ensuring improved teacher policies were firmly on the agenda at the meeting, EI hosted a parallel session in partnership with the ILO and Belgium on strategies to raise the status of teachers. Ministers from around the world, supported by representatives from the ILO, civil society organisations, teachers and youth, discussed the challenges to raising teacher status and shared strategies to ensure that every child, no matter their background, is taught by a trained, qualified, empowered and supported teacher.
In her intervention as part of the panel, Marieme Sakho Dansokho, General Secretary of SYPROS, Senegal and Board member of EI, cited EI’s recent global report on the status of teachers, where 78.8% of respondents reported that teaching was not an attractive profession. She argued that the status of the profession was under threat from numerous factors including the deterioration of working conditions, insufficient access to quality professional development and decreasing societal appreciation. Whilst numerous solutions were discussed in the forum, improved working conditions, quality training and retraining of teachers, professional autonomy and trust, and meaningful social dialogue emerged as core vital “ingredients” that worked to raise teacher status.
Standing up for inclusive education
In a high level panel on inclusive education, Peter Mimahadala from the Tanzania Teachers Union spoke about the challenges faced by students with disabilities to access quality education. He emphasised the need to have the necessary learning materials for all students as well as quality teacher training on providing inclusive education. He also stressed that all schools need to be inclusive teaching and learning environments, including for teachers with disabilities.
Much more work still to be done
In the last three years, teachers and education support personnel have seen some progress towards quality and inclusive education and lifelong learning opportunities for all, but many feel that political will to achieve the educational goals is lacking. It is clear that with current progress, the SDGs will not be achieved by 2030 and therefore urgent work needs to be done to make the realisation of the full extent of the transformative agenda a reality.
The Global Education Meeting’s outcome statement, adopted today, reaffirms the importance of education for the achievement of all SDGs and outlines some key priority areas, feeding into the UN High Level Political Forum in 2019. The statement is a powerful tool for use in national and international advocacy for the realisation of SDG4. It will be available here.
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