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Friday 20 July 2018
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End of one era, dawn of a new era



This if the final installment of the keynote address made by Fred van Leeuwen, outgoing general secretary of Education International

IN SOME parts of the world politicians are forcing their way into our classrooms dictating to us what and how to teach while in other parts private enterprises are entering the education sector hoping to make a quick buck by introducing scripted teaching and employing unqualified teachers.

Suffice it to say, when these two worlds continue to expand, the teaching profession as we see it will be suffocated, squeezed out, if not crushed between them, leaving us deprofessionalised, teethless, disarmed, and unable to deliver meaningful quality education.

Let me emphasise … that we see our tasks in line with John Dewey’s seminal text on democracy and education where it is the role of the profession to ensure that students grow up to be critical thinking and informed citizens who make decisions based on fact and not on political ideology.

We take this responsibility even more seriously in the face of rising populism and rising trends in some countries to undermine or control the free press. Media literacy and internet literacy should, in fact, become a global priority of the teaching profession to contain fake news and burst propaganda bubbles.

Therefore, we must make it perfectly clear that we have the right to use our professional discretion to interrogate and to reject curricular directives that defy facts, falsify history, or lead to xenophobia and hate. There is a professional and ethical responsibility that may outweigh the authority of education employers, or even of governments where they have abdicated democracy and human rights.

This is, I believe, what society expects of us and what we expect of each other. Beyond left and right, there is true and false and it is our responsibility to prepare future generations to know the difference. In other words, the crisis of democracy means that the fundamental values of education are needed more than ever.

This year Education International has reached the age of 25. At World Teachers Day we hope to publish a list of 25 lessons we have learned in those 25 years, 25 lessons for the teaching profession on education and democracy. Each lesson will come with a story, illustrating its crucial importance for protecting our human and democratic values, our democracies, and showing also the risks of ignoring the message. Let me give you a quick preview of these:

1. Educate for democracy. 2. Stimulate critical thinking

3. Shape global citizens. 4. Do not be the obedient servant of the State. 5. Be aware of the thin lines between patriotism, nationalism and nativism. 6. Educate for gender equity, diversity and inclusive classrooms. 7. Protect the right to learn in one’s native language. 8. Embrace new technologies with prudence.

9. Burst internet bubbles. 10. Respect students’ right to privacy. 11. Question standardised testing. 12. Keep schools safe sanctuaries of learning. 13. Refuse to bear arms or wear police badges. 14. Be wary of competition and oppose segregation. 15. Do not deny undocumented children access to schools. 16. Fight discrimination on grounds of gender, religion, ethnicity, disability, social background and sexual orientation. 17. Open the school to the community.

18. Keep the market at a safe distance. 19. Protect education as a public good. 20. Keep politicians out of the classroom. 21. Stand up for your rights. Protect your democratic organisations and institutions. 23. Defend and broaden your collective bargaining rights. 24. Insist on the application of international standards. 25. Be proud of your profession.

To conclude: The fight for democracy is on at least two fronts, in the community and in our schools. We must engage in the political and policy struggle for democracy and education, and educate the community. We must equip new generations to be active citizens who become actors rather than victims.We must fight for professional autonomy; we must fight for a balanced broad curriculum which we ourselves help shape; we must build a strong teaching profession; and we must show leadership, internationally, regionally and locally.

Yes, let’s take that responsibility and show that leadership – remembering the words of a great US President, Abraham Lincoln, who said, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.” We owe this to our students, to their parents, and we owe it to ourselves.


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