Written by Krisztina Binder.
In 1994, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in cooperation with its partner organisations, designated 5 October as World Teachersˈ Day. It commemorates the adoption, in 1966, of a set of guidelines to promote teachersˈ status, and the adoption, in 1997, of a recommendation on the status of higher-education teaching personnel. Since 1994, the teaching profession has been celebrated internationally on 5 October.
World Teachersˈ Day is perhaps one of the global anniversaries that touches everyone most directly. After all, almost everybody remembers a favourite teacher who motivated them to learn and inspired them to explore. This is not a coincidence, as educational research reveals a broad consensus on teacher quality having the greatest impact on student achievement of all in-school factors.
However, across the world, education systems and the teaching profession face problems, many of which are shared. One of these is the global shortage of teachers. For instance, estimations made in 2021 revealed that 15 million more teachers were needed in sub-Saharan Africa; in recent years, many education systems across Europe have also been affected by shortages. Increased class sizes lead to overworked teachers and negatively impact studentsˈ achievements. Moreover, the imbalanced distribution of teachers across subjects, particularly leading to shortages in subjects such as mathematics and technology, and in certain geographical areas, mainly rural and remote locations, also proves problematic. Gender imbalances at different levels of education are also a worldwide phenomenon. While, in sub-Saharan Africa for instance, there are fewer opportunities for women to become a teacher in secondary education, 72 % of the approximately 6 million schoolteachers in the European Union were women, according to 2017 figures.
Furthermore, fewer young people are entering the profession and qualified teachers are leaving the field, creating an ageing teacher population. Several factors drive these trends, including, among others, a perceived low value and status of the profession, general dissatisfaction with salaries, precarious employment conditions, the burden of administrative tasks and higher expectations in terms of student outcomes.
The COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted education services and led to school closures has presented teachers with even more challenges. For instance, to be able to maintain contact with students, teachers had to adapt their practices to online and remote education. They were also expected to support their students’ psychological wellbeing in unfavourable circumstances by, for example, promoting social interaction among them. However, in some cases, the teachersˈ own physical and mental health was also impacted, as they experienced stress and suffered from burnout.
Recent coronavirus-related developments again highlight the fundamental role played by teachers in our societies as a driving force for our education systems contributing to social, economic and cultural life. Moreover, the crisis brought about a renewed awareness of teachersˈ situation and the problems facingthe profession. It is in the shared interest of our communities to develop policy responses that raise the status of teachers and reinstate the attractiveness of the education profession. These include measures on initial preparation and professional development, employment prospects, remuneration, and teaching conditions. Other initiatives should also be explored, such as involving the teaching personnel in creating more adaptive education systems and in innovating teaching practices.
Education policy lies primarily with the Member States; the role of the European Union is to encourage cooperation and support national actions. The European Parliament has expressed continued support for teachers to help them face the challenges of their profession. In its 2021 resolution on the European Education Area, the Parliament called for better recognition of the teaching profession, and stressed, among other things, that teachers and educators should be adequately remunerated for their work. In its 2022 resolution on an EU strategy to promote education for children in the world, the Parliament acknowledged and expressed appreciation for the work delivered by teachers in the context of the pandemic. In May 2021, Members adopted the 2021‑2027 edition of the Erasmus+ programme, with almost doubled funding enabling it to reach more teachers and students.
- Ivana Katsarova, Nadejda Kresnichka-Nikolchova, Teachers: Contributing to the EUˈs future, At a glance, Infographic, European Parliament, EPRS, October 2019
- Ivana Katsarova, Teaching careers in the EU: Why boys do not want to be teachers, Briefing, European Parliament, EPRS, February 2020
- UNESCO, Education International, ILO, UNICEF, World Teachersˈ Day 2021: Teachers at the heart of education recovery, Concept note, 2021
- UNESCO, ILO, UNICEF, Education International, World Teachersˈ Day 2022: The transformation of education begins with teachers, Concept note, 2022
- European Commission, European Education and Culture Executive Agency, Motiejūnaitė-Schulmeister, A., De Coster, I., Davydovskaia, O., et al., Teachers in Europe : careers, development and well-being, Birch, P.(editor), Publications Office of the European Union, 2021