At Global Education Meeting, ministers and experts highlight the work of teachers in response to the COVID-19 crisis and call on the international community to support them

UNESCO, in partnership with the Governments of Ghana, Norway and the United Kingdom, has convened a virtual Global Education Meeting (GEM) on Education post-COVID-19, which is taking place on 20 and 22 October.

As part of the meeting, which aims to secure commitments from leaders for the protection of education financing during the COVID-19 recovery, and produce consensus on priority actions for the next year, a special high-level segment on teachers was organized to address the future of teaching and learning.

The GEM meeting took place two weeks after World Teachers’ Day (WTD), a flagship event organized annually by UNESCO and co-convening partners UNICEF, ILO and Education International to mark the adoption of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers.

The high-level segment on teachers highlighted many of the points that were central in the WTD celebrations, key among them the leadership and initiative teachers have shown to ensure that learning never stopped, in all settings, as well their role in starting the complex but necessary task of remaining the future of education as the COVID-19 world becomes the new normal.

“Societies should take this opportunity to recognize the social value of the teaching profession”, declared Jaime Saavedra, Global Director for Education at The World Bank. He added, “we must ensure teachers are prepared to fulfil the extremely complex task which has been entrusted to them”.

As well as impacting the education of over 90% of the world’s students, 63 million primary and secondary teachers alone have been affected by the pandemic. “We need to reimagine the future, but without forgetting the past. We need to be better at tech, but not replace the human contact of teacher and student”, said Ms Haldis Holst, Deputy General Secretary of Education International.

The importance of human interaction was also raised by H.E. Ms Claudette Irere, Minister of State in charge of ICT and TVET of Rwanda: “Technology can never replace a teacher… Content can’t just be placed online. Pedagogical support is needed to foster the… 21st century skills needed by teachers”. She continued, “without reimagining itself, the education sector will not be able to adapt”.

The role of technology was also raised by Mr Akwasi Addai Boahene, Policy Advisor of the National Education Reform Secretariat of the Republic of Ghana: “In the past technology has dictated its use in education. Education should begin to dictate what kind of technology it needs”.

However, “in many cases, in response to the crisis, teachers felt that they were left hanging in the wind”, said Ms Karen Mundy, Professor at the University of Toronto. Despite this, in all countries, there have been examples of collaborative teaching and mutual support by teachers to address capacity gaps.

But there remains a lot of work to do. Ms Yara Ramadan, a youth activist from Palestine, took the opportunity to thank teachers around the world for their invaluable work and support. However, she added that “we need an updated approach to education. We don’t want to be spoon-fed… Students don’t want a boring lecture. We want collaboration, personalization and engagement… We want teachers to catch up and improve their ICT literacy!”.

With the world in crisis, teachers have been at the forefront of education sector and societal responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. They deserve our support, and, indeed, have a right to it.