by Professor Sarah Gravett
Dean of Education, University of Johannesburg
World Teachers’ Day commemorates the signing of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO “Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers” which was adopted on 5 October 1966. It inter alia contains the rights and responsibilities of teachers, standards for the initial education of teachers and their further development, and employment conditions. It also sets forth recommendations for teachers’ participation in educational decisions through consultation and negotiation with educational authorities. The UNESCO Recommendation concerning the “Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel” was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 1997.
The theme of this year’s World Teachers’ Day is “Teaching in Freedom, Empowering Teachers”. This theme draws attention to the challenges that teachers face who are working in countries and communities affected by conflicts and instability. The theme also highlights the issue that across the globe far too many teachers do not experience the empowerment and autonomy that enable working as professionals.
Empowerment is about giving teachers authority. And authority first and foremost implies expertise, which requires high-quality initial teacher education and continuous opportunities for professional development. High-quality teacher education and development is prevalent in all well-performing education systems. These systems are usually also characterised by high levels of trust. And the trust is related to the expertise of the teachers, as well as high regard for teachers as professionals. Teachers are trusted and therefore given the freedom to interpret curricula, set the pace, and choose the most appropriate methods and approaches to enable effective, inclusive and equitable education for the diverse needs of learners.
The theme “Teaching in Freedom, Empowering Teachers” reminds all education role players in South Africa to collaborate on elevating the teaching profession. We need advocacy to attract talented young people to become teachers. We need to provide robust initial teacher education that will enable authority. And teachers need sustained support once they enter the teaching profession.