Since 1994, World Teachers' Day is commemorated on 5 October of every year with the aim of supporting teachers and recognizing the crucial role they play in meeting the knowledge needs of future generations. The theme for this year’s World Teachers’ Day is ‘Empowering teachers, building sustainable societies’.
Despite challenges posed by staff shortages, poor training, low motivation and lack of status, teachers continue to remain the only means of implementing education goals. They are crucial to sustainability and national capacity building, as well as for achieving learning and creating societies based on knowledge, values and ethics.
Underlining the important role of teachers to a sustainable future, UNESCO, the educational and cultural arm of the United Nations has stated that empowering teachers is a critical step towards quality education and sustainable societies. UNESCO, along with its partners is committed to promoting World Teachers’ Day with events marking the significance of the day. According to UNESCO, World Teachers' Day represents a significant token of the awareness, understanding and appreciation displayed for the vital contribution that teachers make to education and development.
In a bid to emphasize the significance of education, and explicitly the part played by teachers, world leaders who gathered to approve the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) earmarked a stand-alone goal for education. Goal 4 of the SDG, adopted by global leaders on 25 September, 2015 is to: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all (by 2030)”. A specific target within Goal 4 is to “Substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small-island developing States”.
Earlier, in May 2015, the World Education Forum (WEF), which was held in the South Korean city of Incheon, had crafted the Incheon Declaration that clearly recognized the importance of empowering teachers. At the forum 1600 participants from 160 countries committed to “ensure that teachers and educators are empowered, adequately recruited, well-trained, professionally qualified, motivated and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems”. This commitment towards empowering teachers was reiterated two months later at the Oslo Summit on ‘Education for Development’, which reiterated the need for further investment in teacher education. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics estimates that to achieve the goal of universal primary education by 2020, countries will need to recruit a total of 12.6 million primary teachers.
On 26 September, 2015, immediately following the international community’s approval of the 17 SDG, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited world leaders and education activists for the Global Education First Initiative (GEFI) to mark the inclusion of education as a transformative stand-alone goal in the new 2030 Agenda.
Speaking on the occasion, UNESCO Director-General and Executive Secretary of the GEFI Steering Committee, Irina Bokova, recognized the overwhelming importance of education. Commending GEFI Champion Countries for catalyzing political and financial support for education, she said, “We know the power of education to eradicate poverty, transform lives and make breakthroughs on all the Sustainable Development Goals. And, it is thanks to GEFI partners, that the Initiative’s three priorities of putting every child in school, improving the quality of education and fostering global citizenship are an integral part of SDG 4.”
The GEFI she said is committed to helping shape a new vision of education as a human right essential to dignity and empowerment and as a transformational force for inclusion, gender equality and poverty eradication. The initiative hopes to widen the lens away from mere access to education, to quality of education, to teaching and content, to lifelong learning, to skills, to education for sustainable development, and to global citizenship education. “There is obviously a need for more champions, leadership and increased funding to ensure education becomes the tool to addressing inequalities and giving youth the knowledge and skills to become responsible citizens,” she added.
Education also plays a crucial role in countering violent extremism, promoting tolerance and understanding. Recognizing this fact, UN Special Envoy and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown passionately expressed his resolve to get every child into school, including by mobilizing resources and political will through the International Commission for the Financing of Global Education Opportunity, recently launched by the Government of Norway, co-convened by UNESCO, and which he chairs. It is worth noting that it would only take 14 cents a day per child to fill the funding gap.
Meanwhile, Susan Hopgood, president of Education International (EI), the global federation that represents education professionals worldwide, called for a collaborative path to implementing the 2030 agenda. Pointing to the importance of recognizing the role of teachers in achieving education for all by 2030, she noted that every year EI launches a public awareness campaign on World Teachers' Day to highlight the contributions of the teaching profession.
The efforts of the organization have contributed to the recognition of World Teachers’ Day in more than 100 countries worldwide. She noted that Education International currently has 401 member organizations in 172 countries and territories, and that any national organization, composed predominantly of educational personnel can become a member of the organization. Through its headquarters in Brussels, and regional offices in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America, EI represents over 30 million educational personnel from pre-school to university and is the world’s largest sectorial federation.
On a concluding note at GEFI and recapping the importance of teachers and teaching, Nobel peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi said, "We are accountable to each child not in school, every minute matters. Accomplishing all the SDGs begins now by ensuring inclusive, equitable and quality education for all children. We are going to make it happen."