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Sunday 19 January 2020
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Celebrating our teachers

Teaching in Freedom, Empowering Teachers is the theme selected by the International Labour Organisation, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and Education International (EI) to commemorate the observance of World Teachers Day 2017.

Each year World Teachers Day is celebrated on October 5 and its observance seeks to bring attention to the critical work that teachers at all levels of the education system perform.

Given the threats to democracies around the world, the growing imbalances between rich and poor, as well as the need for renewed efforts aimed at sustainable development, the work of empowered teachers has become all the more crucial.

Teaching must be seen as a true profession and as such that professional autonomy is critical to the achievement of quality education.

Teachers must be able to regulate themselves and have a decisive role in determining curriculum content and delivery.

Their cognitive capacity and knowledge-base developed through an extensive period of specialised training must be acknowledged in the management structure of the profession.

In many parts of the world teacher unions are under attack for their insistence that teachers are allowed to operate as true professionals.

From the United States where teachers unions are being systematically stripped of their rights to advocate on behalf of teachers, to Turkey where thousands of teachers were fired for perceived political opposition to their government, to the Middle-East where leaders of teacher unions are regularly incarcerated, teachers are forced to defend their freedom and autonomy.

The rise of far-right extremism in many countries has given fuel to those who would seek to openly vilify or even destroy others who hold opposing or differing views and teachers are no exception. Through the work of EI, the plight of teachers in many countries who face persecution has been given international attention.

As people whose task it is to encourage their charges to challenge, question and disagree, this threatens would-be tyrants, dictators, bigots, fascists and zealots and proponents of far-right thinking. Hence, they very often see teachers as their enemy and are quite prepared to curb their professional autonomy in weak democracies.

If teachers are to be able to lay the foundation for the creation of a sustainable future, these threats to freedom must be confronted head-on, hence the selection of this theme for the observance of World Teachers Day this year. It represents a powerful reminder that our freedoms must be jealously guarded by all sectors of the society beginning with teachers themselves.

In pushing back at the forces that are threatened by quality public education, the various institutions of democracy must join forces to protect fundamental freedoms. Denying or attacking the professional autonomy and freedom of teachers is a collective attack on the society as a whole.

Unfortunately, many who lead the attack were beneficiaries of the struggles of the very teacher unions they now demonise, using their freedoms to promote subversion. The quality of our schools and teachers are a direct outcome of the hard work of teacher unions.

While our teachers and our union may not be under the same level of threat as our counterparts in Latin America or the Middle East, the developments in the United States should serve as a wake-up call for us. We must never take our freedoms and democratic rights for granted.

Indeed, eternal vigilance is the price of democracy.

Through our work in the classroom, our democracy must be nurtured to ensure its sustainability. Complacency must never be allowed to set in.

Strong democracies value their teachers as true professionals, which in turn reinforces the quality of their democracy. Empowered teachers are a cornerstone of democracy.

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