World Teachers Day 2012? – Who really cared about it?


Irina Bokova, the Director General, of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – UNESCO – called the public to “take a stand for teachers!” This is the motto for the World Teachers’ Day which was celebrated on 5 October 2012:

“Teachers… ultimately determine our collective ability to innovate, to invent, to find solutions for tomorrow. Nothing will ever replace a good teacher. Nothing is more important than supporting them.”

This day is also the anniversary of the 1966 signature of the Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers, signed by UNESCO and the International Labor Organization, which were adopted by a Special Intergovernmental Conference on the Status of Teachers in Paris on 5 October 1966.

Obviously the text of this document (available in the original here, is expressing the concern that the important role teachers can play is not fulfilled sufficiently, because there are not enough teachers available who have the necessary support by their governments to do what has to be done. I quote here only a small section of this very long document:


Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers

The Special Intergovernmental Conference on the Status of Teachers,

Recalling that the right to education is a fundamental human right,

Conscious of the responsibility of the States for the provision of proper education for all in fulfillment of Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights… and of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and of the United Nations Declaration concerning the Promotion among Youth of the Ideals of Peace, Mutual Respect and Understanding between Peoples,

Recognizing the essential role of teachers in educational advancement and the importance of their contribution to the development of man and modern society,…

Concerned to ensure that teachers enjoy the status commensurate with this role,…

Has adopted this Recommendation:

  • 9. Teachers’ organizations should be recognized as a force which can contribute greatly to educational advance and which therefore should be associated with the determination of educational policy.
  • 26. Research and experimentation in education and in the teaching of particular subjects should be promoted through the’ provision of research facilities in teacher-preparation institutions and research work by their staff and students…
  • 27. Students as well as staff should have the opportunity of expressing their views on the arrangements governing the life, work and discipline of a teacher-preparation institution.
  • 61. The teaching profession should enjoy academic freedom in the discharge of professional duties. Since teachers are particularly qualified to judge the teaching aids and methods most suitable for their pupils, they should be given the essential role in the choice and the adaptation of teaching material, the selection of textbooks and the application of teaching methods, within the framework of approved programs, and with the assistance of the educational authorities.
  • 73. Codes of ethics or of conduct should be established by the teachers’ organizations, since such codes greatly contribute to ensuring the prestige of the profession and the exercise of professional duties in accordance with agreed principles.
  • 79. The participation of teachers in social and public life should be encouraged in the interests of the teacher’s personal development, of the education service, and of society as a whole.
  • 80. Teachers should be free to exercise all civic rights generally enjoyed by citizens and should be eligible for public office.
  • 82. Both salaries and working conditions for teachers should be determined through the process of negotiation between teachers’ organizations and the employers of teachers.
  • 108. School buildings should be safe and attractive in overall design and functional in layout; they should lend themselves to effective teaching, and to use for extra-curricular activities and, especially in rural areas, as a community center; they should be constructed in accordance with established sanitary standards and with a view to durability, adaptability and easy, economic maintenance.
  • 111. Decent housing, preferably free or at a subsidized rental, should be provided for teachers and their families in areas remote from population centers and recognized as such by the public authorities.
  • 112. On appointment or transfer to schools in remote areas, teachers should be paid removal and travel expenses for themselves and their families.
  • 115. Teachers’ salaries should reflect the importance to society of the teaching function and hence the importance of teachers as well as the responsibilities of all kinds which fall upon them from the time of their entry into the service.

  • While this fairly long document does not bring anything particularly new, it is still worthwhile to quote it just to ask: How much of this is being implemented? And if not: Why not?

    A lot seems to be going on concerned about education.

    In some more recent discussions, there is a shift: Not the quantity of educational opportunities is the major concern, but the challenge is “improving learning – not just education.” What does this imply?

    The year 2015 is the target for both reaching the UN Millennium Development Goals – MDG – and for the Education for All Movement – EFA. In addition, the UN Secretary-General launched, on 27 September 2012, a new global initiative Education First with three priorities in the next five year: 1) Putting every child in school, 2) Improving the quality of learning, and 3) Fostering global citizenship: “When we put Education First, we can reduce poverty and hunger, end wasted potential – and look forward to stronger and better societies for all.”

    The UNESCO Asia-Pacific Bureau for Education in Bangkok held a conference on Towards Education for All – 2015 and Beyond: Shaping a New Vision for Education in May 2012 and will organize a high-level expert meeting around the topic: Rethinking Learning in a Changing World in November 2012, bringing together leading experts to discuss the future of learning.

    The history of education in Singapore, as an example from our region, may provide some interesting points of reference.

    I had been in Singapore in 1973, and I remember that a newspaper carried a report saying that about 1 among 100 citizens is involved in teaching, and the Minister of Education has the second highest position in the government right after the Prime Minister. Singapore, a small island with few natural resources, had prioritized education as the basis for its economic growth since its independence in 1965.

    By now, Singapore’s schools lead to high results in the Program for International Student Assessment – PISA – for 15 year old students’ in the among the members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development – OECD: Singapore was on the 5th place in reading, 4th in science, and 2nd in mathematics. This means that Singapore’s results are better than the comparable results of all countries of Europe except Finland.

    Well trained and highly motivated teachers made this development possible, so that Singapore, with only about 5 million inhabitants, has now the third highest per capita income in the world.

    • As many other countries, Singapore had started, after independence in 1965, with not having enough good teachers, also teachers did not have a respected position in society.
    • The educational system in the 1970ies was “efficiency driven” trying to provide education to match the needs of industry and commerce.
    • This changed from the mid 1990ies, when national policy helped to raise the image of teachers, providing better training and payment, and better working conditions for teachers.
    • In the late 1990s, the economy advanced to become knowledge based, and the emphasis in education had shifted to focus more on thinking skills and on creativity.

    The Minister for Education of Singapore, Heng Swee Keat, explained this shift, stating that education is less about content knowledge but “more about how to process information.” He described this challenge to innovate and use independent critical thinking as being able to “discern truths from untruths,” to prepare today’s students for the next 20 years.

    An Example of changing patterns of education – Singapore wants creativity not cramming

    The nine to ten years olds from Rosyth School were on a “learning journey” in a park, incorporating science topics and values such as caring for the environment.

    “We are conducting a biopsy to find out why a bee, a fish, a bird and a plant mysteriously died,” said student Darren Ong. “Is it because of human actions?”

    They photographed “evidence” on smartphones and digital cameras, soaking up facts on plant and animal species on their iPads.

    “In one activity, I can cover three topics,” said science teacher Lin Lixun, clad in a white laboratory coat for his role as chief investigator.

    “They can really learn through hands-on experience and putting things into action,” said civics and moral education teacher, Joslyn Huang.

    Similar trends have been reported at events in Germany related to the World Teachers’ Day: The challenge for the educational system is not how to pass on knowledge – this also has to be done – but it is more how to make young people competent to live in a society where the mobile phone and the Internet play an increasing role, so that they can be global citizens, to use the words of the UN Secretary General: competent to fulfill their roles based on the fundamental rights and responsibilities we all have:

    All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. – Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Universal Declaration of Human Rights, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

    The UNESCO Representative in Cambodia, Anne Lemaistre, pointed, in The Cambodia Daily of 5 October 2012, to the impressive developments in the field of education in Cambodia on the occasion of the World Teachers’ Day: That over the past 30 years, a teaching force of 86,000 persons has been developed, by now from 26 Teacher Training Colleges. Among the challenges faced she mentions that there is still a very high student-to-teacher ratio, especially in rural areas, which partly relate to difficulties deploying teachers to remote areas – a problem addressed already in Points 111 and 112 of the 1966 Recommendation Concerning the Status of Teachers. She continues to share the experience in other countries:

    Encouraging and supporting secondary students from remote areas to become teachers, providing them with a supporting environment and benefits to remain in their home districts as teachers is one important strategy that has been successfully pursued by many countries worldwide.

    And the Minister of Education, Im Sethy, is quoted to look towards the same driving force that was also identified in the 1966 Recommendations – where the essential role of teachers for educational advancement is recognized, so that they “should enjoy academic freedom in the discharge of professional duties… Teachers are particularly qualified to judge the teaching aids and methods most suitable for their pupils: “Teachers know what’s working in schools before anyone else.”


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    2 Comments

    1. Dear Sir thank you for writing this powerful and well informed piece. The organisation which with I work have been fighting for teachers’rights and the right to education since it was established in 2000. I would urge you to help highlight the work of CITA which this year has logged a complaint to ILO/UNESCO body that oversee the recommendations you cite and is campaigning on all the issues your mention.

      • nhklein says:

        Thanks for your response. I am happy that you say it is in support of other, wider efforts to strengthen the rights of the teachers according to ILO/UNESCO provisions. Please share what I wrote with others for whom my documentation may be useful. Norbert Klein

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