Five years have passed since the UN set its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and there is serious concern the world is not on track to achieve them. Even before the COVID crisis, a July 2019 report warned that progress has been slow, with inaction on the “existential threat” of climate change having the potential to compromise all other SDGs.
In order for teachers to contribute to achieve Target SDG 4 – which aims to ensure quality education for all – they must be supported through the unfolding challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
The Teacher Task Force 12th Policy Dialogue Forum, which was held in Dubai in December 2019, brought together educators to discuss how teachers’ experiences and needs will change over the next decade. Attendees debated how teachers may seize opportunities and show resilience in a rapidly-changing world, while contributing to a more equitable and sustainable future.
The Forum recommended that models of teaching, teacher training, and professional support for teachers must evolve as the meaning of a ‘foundational education’ shifts; for instance, versatile future-facing skills like critical thinking, digital skills, and entrepreneurship can be at odds with traditional top-down educational models, and remain on the periphery in many countries. It also called for teachers’ education to be adapted to brace for coming crises, which could result in more large, linguistically diverse, and virtual classrooms.
How classes could change
Teachers warned that it is “increasingly urgent” to prepare for large class sizes, multilingual classrooms, and scarcity of resources, particularly as migration – which can drive these challenges – is likely to increase in the face of climate change and political instability.
Teachers are already grappling directly with climate change as flooding, wildfires, and other extreme weather disrupts education infrastructure and networks; Dr Natalio D Wheatley, Education Minister of the British Virgin Isles, told the Forum that 90 per cent of the territory’s educational infrastructure was destroyed by a “devastating” Category 5 hurricane in 2017.
Preparing for future crises
Education systems can prepare for crises by taking cues from flexible teacher training and continuous professional development models which have been adapted to crisis settings. For instance, the Teachers in Crisis Contexts Collaboration created an open-source training pack to quickly build basic competencies for unqualified and under-qualified teachers recruited to teach in emergency settings. It was deployed in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, where just three per cent of children eligible for secondary schooling enroll, largely due to a shortage of teachers.
Teachers called for training in pedagogies that leave behind rigid concepts of didactic teaching and rote learning, and instead seek child-centred approaches that support every child with consideration for their prior experiences and education. This is essential for teaching children who have lived through distressing experiences such as displacement.
William Mushobya, a teacher at Jamhuri Primary School, Kenya, explained that his school handles many refugee children with trauma and psychosocial issues: “Children from conflict areas have limited social skills and need a lot of guidance and counselling,” he said. Training to prepare teachers for diverse and challenging educational settings could include units focused on wellbeing, stress management and inclusive education. Save the Children Jordan and MIT’s TREE programme, for example, aims to promote education of refugee children by focusing on teachers’ social and socio-emotional traits with the hope that the school can become a more friendly, nurturing and inclusive environment.
Over the next 10 years, education systems must respond not just to emerging challenges but also to emerging opportunities like technological advances. Digital technology offers almost unlimited opportunities for teachers – from accessing open-source resources to undergoing professional training remotely – and the Covid-19 pandemic has proved that the internet can be a lifeline for educators in crisis settings.
Yet there are serious disparities in access to digital infrastructure and remote learning is not possible for at least 500 million students: “Private schools in urban areas are investing in online schooling for their pupils. However, the level of investment is not standardised and not consistent among schools,” commented Nadya Faquir, a teacher from Mozambique. “Online education is not a feasible option in a country where most people have no access to the internet.” In order to expand these opportunities, teachers supported calls for sustainable and socially-responsive investment in digital infrastructure.
Across the globe, there is wide disparity in access to resources, infrastructure, and current levels of educational attainment. As teachers and education systems work towards the goal of guaranteeing inclusive, equitable and quality education for all, it is important to remember that – while there is shared interest in modernising models of teaching to prepare teachers for new responsibilities and diverse, challenging classrooms – there is no one-size-fits-all solution for teachers.
This blog is part of a series of stories addressing the importance of the work of, and the challenges faced by teachers in the lead up to this year’s World Teachers’ Day celebrations.