The Futures of Teaching in the Arab States and beyond: The International Task Force on Teachers, UNESCO, and Hamdan Foundation reflect on the changing nature of the teaching profession

Dubai: The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected teachers’ role by transforming the nature of the teaching profession. With the closure of schools and the sudden switch to distance learning, teachers have found themselves in unconventional settings that require adaptive teaching methods and novel pedagogical tools. In the Arab region, where teachers face unprecedented challenges as they strive to provide education to millions of children affected by conflict, displacement, and poverty, it is critical to draw on the lessons learnt during the pandemic to build more resilient education systems that place teachers at the centre.

Against this backdrop, the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 (Teacher Task Force – TTF), in partnership with the Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation and UNESCO, held on 20 April 2021 an online dialogue on “The Futures of Teaching” with a focus on the Arab States to examine the futures of the teaching profession. The event contributes to UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative which aims to develop a forward-looking vision of what education and learning might yet become and offer a policy agenda based on a broad-based consultative process that involves youth, educators, civil society, governments, business and other stakeholders.

In particular, the event aimed to put teachers at the centre of discussions and debates about what tomorrow’s education systems should look like. This is based on the notion that teachers are the key to education quality and innovation, a notion that is embedded in the Education 2030 Agenda under Sustainable Development Goal 4 and that is at the heart of the Hamdan Foundation’s work since its inception.

The panel discussion, moderated by Middle East Institute of Higher Education Director and American University of Cairo Professor, Ms Malak Zaalouk, featured six high-level speakers: Ambassador of Portugal to UNESCO, Mr Antonia Novoa; Head of the Secretariat for the TTF and Teacher Development section at UNESCO, Mr Carlos Vargas Tamez; Executive Director of Educate Me Foundation (Egypt), Ms Christine Safwat; Founder of Colegio Valle de Filadelfia (Mexico) and member of the International Commission on the Futures of Education initiative, Ms Elisa Guerra; Educational trainer and supervisor at the National Institute for Educational Training (Palestine), Mr Hilmi Hamdan; and College of Education Acting-Dean at UAE University, Ms Najwa Al Hosani.

In his opening statement, Director of UNESCO’s Futures of Education initiative, Dr Sobhi Tawil, spoke of the future of education from a global perspective, highlighting the efforts UNESCO has initiated to launch a global reflection on the matter. Dr Tawil highlighted that the COVID-19 crisis offers us the opportunity to reimagine the purpose of education and the organization of learning, and to reflect on the role of teachers and the evolving nature of the profession.

For their part, the speakers shed light on the set of challenges faced by teachers in light of and beyond the global pandemic. In particular, the discussion focused on new pedagogical challenges arising from the switch to distance learning, teachers’ support and well-being, training and education programs, and the future of the profession.

Nearly 200 participants from diverse backgrounds (teachers, teacher organizations, policymakers, teacher training institutions, national education actors, representatives of regional and international organizations, Teacher Task Force members, representatives from the private sector and civil society organizations) attended the event. The discussion touched upon a wide range of issues, including the use of technologies in teacher training and qualifications, the social status of the profession, and teachers’ working conditions, especially in the Arab states. A live poll undertaken on participants showed that the majority considered the involvement of teachers in education policy-making and the transformation of teacher education as key to enable teachers to lead educational change in the future. A majority also believed that the main challenge teachers face today is how to manage distance learning.

In his closing remarks, Mr Carlos Vargas Tamez, stressed on the role of teachers in leading educational change and driving the future of education. He highlighted the need to empower and enable teachers through professional development to ensure education quality and innovation.

The event provided a platform for the sharing of perspectives, ideas, and reflections on the changing nature of the teaching profession, in the Arab States and beyond, and for generating debate on emerging trends, challenges, and opportunities for teachers to lead educational change. The discussion will be included in a report on the Futures of Teaching, which will constitute a part of the Futures of Education final report. This will ensure that the voices of teachers and experts on teaching, from all regions, are heard and included in global discussions on education.

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