With the recent liberation presented through various platforms of social media, any social cause can be promoted and targeted through to the right audience. Causes including climate change, economic upheavals, suppressed groups, sports and education have gained traction beyond expectation. Education and teacher focused organisations have also taken to social media to highlight a global plight of an increasingly demeaning status; one that may be a conscious and deliberate attempt or an agenda to divert resources to other causes due to priorities of the ruling authorities and influential organisations.
The powerful feature of social media platforms has successfully amplified the voice of teachers in the sense that diverse issues have been brought to the attention of the public through real time education challenges from developing countries of Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia. Enumerated challenges could be repeated unnecessarily but with due emphasis on teacher shortages, low or a lack of capacity building programmes, poor remuneration associated with low quality of teaching and learning, and one of a serious impact comes with the low respect for teachers as reported in recent studies.
Education reforms have thus been created by many governments and organisations to address inequities with teachers at the heart of the proposed changes. The reforms without initially focusing on teacher takes in to consideration the fitness for purpose of curriculum to 21st century youths under the ever-evolving digital age. While curriculum has been questioned, counter-questioned, reformed, piloted and ultimately implemented, the real drivers are teachers who deliver the change in the classroom. An example is the recent reform in curriculum in the UK that placed emphasis on the grading system of core subjects within the O’ level/GCSE exams under the Education Secretary, Michael Gove’s authority in 2014. The reforms tweaked with the previous standards and specifications by increasing difficulty levels and realigning under different tiers within the core subject of Mathematics, for example. The English language content was reviewed in the selection of literature to include both 19th century and modern literature with the inclusion of language structure and features. These are a few among many changes which are currently in progress in its 3rd year after an OECD report, providing evidence of low skill-set among UK youths as discovered within PISA test results. The PISA test organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is a Programme for International Student Assessment which assesses basic skills in Mathematics, Reading and Science among 15 year olds. Though perceived by some education leaders as controversial and invalid, the PISA tests have come to be seen as a universally acceptable standard of measuring the acquisition and utilisation of sound basic skills expected of youths. The basic skills are master key subjects which test the students’ ability to prepare for real life situations in the adult world. The selection of 15 year olds is justified because in most countries, it is at age 15, most students make a decision to continue or not with their education making it a pivotal time of their life. The OECD conducts the tests every 3 years and releases the results a year after each test, making it a resource to shape government education policy. PISA cycles are named after the year of each test so that PISA 2000 was tested in year 2000 with result released in 2001, after which PISA 2003 was conducted with its result release date in 2004, thus continuing in similar parallels. It is of paramount interest to note that the next release of results would be on 3rd December 2019. It is also worthy of mention that Morocco and Algeria are the only African countries to have participated in the PISA tests.
While test results create some discomfort for some countries, its impact on education policy is what is most important for observers. The UK government took action following the release of a report by creating reforms and by reviewing its systems. Commenting on the situation, Andreas Schleicher, the Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor on education policy drew attention to teacher shortage as a bottleneck to raising standards under the need to adapt to the dynamics of a changing economy. On the other hand, England’s School Standards minister, Nick Gibb described the results as a useful insight and pro-actively announced the sum of £12m to support professional training for science teaching.
It appears that teachers are at the heart of the solution to addressing these inequities dominating the education landscape in the UK and other countries whose education systems are not meeting the future and relevant needs of its youths. The effects of a largely illiterate population are well documented with numerous examples that are reflected through the history of great economies that have been through long term national educational overhauls. These overhauls could not have been successful except through targeted teacher development for a desired outcome. An example is that of Singapore, a small Asian country that gained independence in 1965. A multi-ethnicity rich country with diverse socio-economic features, it has consistently ranked in the top three education driven countries due to its focus on developing teaching standards with the domino effect of educating and skilling up its populace. According to Prof Sing Kong Lee, Nanyang Technnology University’s vice president, in Singapore, a heavy government investment in education through teacher education had been a key factor to raising the standard of living. Raising the prestige and status of teaching to attract the best graduates was part of strong government initiatives leading to well-developed economy.
Evidence mounts and points largely to teachers to stimulate a well-educated populace leading to holistic economic growth. Targeted teacher training and post qualification professional development are at the centre of all efforts to increase productivity and individual contribution to the economic development of any nation. Relevant training which is fit for purpose, holistic, digital and scientific are essential components for consideration to allay economic stagnation, poverty and security issues. It has been reported recently that a lack of education and opportunity is responsible for recruitment of members into extremist organisations such as Boko-Haram in North-eastern Nigeria. Ex-President Obasanjo in an interview at the Global Education and Skills Forum in March 2019 linked the impact of a good education to life expectancy, employability, personal effectiveness, empowerment and well-being. He recommended the need for popular education policy for all African countries. Projecting population trends by the year 2050, President Obasanjo stated that Nigeria would be faced with a population of 450 million people, up from 45 million in 1960, the year of independence. What the president failed to address is the educational development of the growing population, the demand for public services, job creation, security measures and the impact of high population on the economy. The question is how is the population supported through education and skills development? How are Nigerians prepared for the population explosion in large cities including Lagos, Port-Harcourt, Ibadan and Kano? What established measures are in place to build infra-structures to support the provision of essential services such as schools, hospitals, defence, etc.
Policies and programmes to stimulate innovation and creativity are expected to be on ground to absorb projected needs of the people with the root stimulant at the heart of education through teachers. The policies can be appropriately implemented and enforced through essential drivers in research and development, cascading down to teacher education through capacity building and development to ultimately meet emerging needs of the masses which include poverty alleviation mechanisms, job opportunities, equality, tolerance of diversities, welfarism, communications-technological growth and evolving digital skills. Sustainability remains at the core of the population explosion in the case of Nigeria and other big African economies.
Within the same conference, two polls were presented to delegates asking how education ministries prepare themselves for education reform. Another poll asks the instrument for increasing the number and capabilities of teachers to implement curricula and pedagogy reforms.
The images below show the result of the polls confirming that teachers sit at the core of global education reforms from the most advanced economies to the least developed economies. Teachers across all levels are instrumental to global political, economic, scientific and technological development. Teachers change lives, impact thinking, grow mind-sets and overturn the narratives. They can nurture morals, question ethics, create peaceful societies and importantly change communities for the better.
It is high time that teachers were globally recognised as the instrument for positive change, not just for global education reforms.
Photo credit: GESF 2019
Photo credit: GESF 2019