Transforming education


30 January 2023

The Transforming Education Summit, convened by the United Nations (UN) in September in response to a global crisis in education, has initiated a new international body to consider the future of teachers and teaching.

The UN is working with UNESCO and the International Labour Organization to decide how best to establish the Global Commission on the Teaching Profession.

Teachers feel deeply disrespected and overwhelmed because they are seen as tools rather than partners, says David Edwards, general secretary of Education International (EI), which represents more than 32-million teachers and education support personnel worldwide.

“A Global Commission on the Teaching Profession could illuminate solutions, many of which come from our profession itself, and match those with the political will and commitment required to meet this moment,” says Edwards.

“The commission is an opportunity to systematically bring together all the disparate strands of research and actions and weave them into a reinvigorated and clear social contract.”

Edwards says the new initiative is a step in the right direction to ensure “that every learner has access to a professional, trained, and well supported teacher and that every teacher has
access to the tools, time, and trust necessary to reach, teach, and inspire the generations and communities they have been entrusted to serve”.

EI president Susan Hopgood told the summit that to transform education governments must include teachers and their unions as partners in the process.

“We share the same goal, ensuring that every single learner enjoys everything promised under SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) 4,” she said. SDG 4 requires countries to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

“Our partnership can enable truly resistant quality education systems. Our partnership can be the transformation,” she says.

Conviction, imagination, solidarity

UN secretary-general António Guterres called on the international community to give the education crisis the attention it deserves.

“We must respond decisively with conviction, imagination and in solidarity to transform education,” he said in a vision statement following the summit.

“Education is the great enabler, but today, in many cases, it is also the great divider. “Studies show that up to 70 per cent of children in poorer countries are unable to read a basic text by age 10. In a world that is experiencing a fourth industrial revolution, nearly half of all students do not complete secondary school and 700 million adults are illiterate, the majority of whom are women,” Guterres says.

The impacts are greatest on those who are already marginalised or disadvantaged, particularly adolescent girls and people with disabilities. But the crisis runs deeper with “study after study, poll after poll” concluding that education systems are no longer fit for purpose, he says.

Guterres promises that change is possible. “There can be no going back to the education models of the past,” he says. We must reimagine education systems and raise the status of education. We must ensure that learning empowers individuals and societies to both reshape the present and lead us to a more just, sustainable, resilient, and peaceful future.”

He says “truly transformative” education should build on what communities, families, parents, and children treasure most, and respond to local, national, and global needs, cultures, and capacities.

“It should promote the holistic development of all learners throughout their lives, supporting them to realise their aspirations and to contribute their families, communities, and societies,” he says.

Guterres says education transformation needs the commitment and action of “visionary” political leaders, parents, students, teachers and the public.

Warning on digital reforms

The summit generated commitments by 133 countries, including Australia, to prioritise education. Hopgood says most countries included plans for digital learning and public-private partnerships with technology providers, an area that requires careful consideration and strong governance.

“Involving teachers in the governance of education technology is imperative to ensure that these new tools truly benefit all students,” she says.

“Technology does not equal innovation. The source of effective innovation in education is the teaching profession itself. This was demonstrated during the pandemic,” Hopgood says.

“In this race to spread technology as the solution to the education crisis, shockingly absent were commitments to increase investment in the teaching profession. Measures to address the alarming teacher shortages were almost entirely lacking.

“We will never truly transform education if education financing is steered towards edtech companies in the misguided hope that new technologies will provide a ‘magic solution’ to quality education, rather than invested in teachers, to fulfil every child’s right to be taught by a trained and qualified teacher,” Hopgood says.

This article was originally published in the Australian Educator, Summer 2022