Why teachers must be included in the post-2015 education agenda

Winston Mills-Compton teaches mathematics at a boys’ school in Ghana. Governments need to recognize that teachers should be part of the education processes. Photo by: Jonathan Ernst / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

Last year, on Oct. 5 — observed annually as World Teachers’ Day — Education International, the world’s largest federation of unions, representing 30 million education employees, launched the “Unite for Quality Education campaign.

It is a global effort to demand keeping quality education for all at the top of the agenda for a sustainable, peaceful and prosperous future. The campaign was predicated on EI’s belief that a good education is comprised of three quality pillars: teaching, tools for teaching and learning, and environments for teaching and learning.

One year later, we have witnessed firsthand that efforts to meet the basic goal of “education for all” are falling short. Globally, nearly 60 million children remain out of school, indicating education is still not top of mind for some leaders, and the international community has not delivered on its Millennium Development Goals, one of which was to ensure universal access to quality education.

The time has come for policymakers to start listening to teachers.

We recognize that education is a critical component of improving the quality of life for the world’s citizens. UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report states that education “enables people to escape from the trap of chronic poverty and prevent the transmission of poverty between generations.” The survey also found that if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, which would be a 12 percent cut in world poverty.

In addition, the report asserts that, on average, one year of school increases earnings by 10 percent. This data illustrates what we all know to be true. Education is an inherent right, not a privilege to be granted, and it can have a critical impact on a child’s life trajectory. Yet, governments have consistently failed to fund their systems sufficiently, effectively and equitably. Governments have also failed to recognize the expertise of teachers and education workers and to give them their rightful place in education processes.

To better understand where our education systems fail, and where they succeed, we must look to teachers. Last week, in honor of the culmination of the Unite for Quality Education campaign, EI convened a panel of education leaders and educators from around the globe to examine what has been achieved and what remains to ensure education is the bedrock of any post-2015 development agenda.

During the panel we heard from a veteran teacher from Lebanon who told the audience he still must work three jobs in order to supplement his low salary, which alone is not nearly enough to take care of his family. A teacher from Togo shared she has 120 students in one classroom where she teaches six different subjects. In Nigeria, teachers worry for schoolchildren, especially young women, who fear being kidnapped on the way to school, while some teachers in India struggle to keep their students in school and out of factories and underage marriages.

It’s easy to analyze data and make inferences about what must be done to improve education, but it is stories like these — voices from the classroom, teachers — which help us truly understand the conditions our students confront on a daily basis.

We must ensure that the global debate on education reflects the reality of the classroom and that insights from education professionals influence the development of national and international education policy. With this in mind, EI has produced a documentary film that highlights the challenges currently confronting public schools, teachers and trade unions worldwide. The film also highlights the successes and best practices of good education and teacher policy, such as adequate investment in education and well-qualified teachers with professional support. Promoting these stories will help ensure that these best practices will be replicated on a broader scale.

We, the educators of the world, are not yet finished building our alliances and demanding quality education for all.

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About the author

  • Susan Hopgood

    Susan Hopgood is president of Education International and Federal Secretary of the Australian Education Union, the first woman to achieve that position.