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“Nothing about us without us: educators take the lead on professional teaching standards”, by David Edwards.

One of the most consequential debates and decisions of our 8th World Congress was on professional teaching standards. Congress passed a resolution supporting the implementation of a joint EI/UNESCO framework on the development of professional teaching standards where it is clear that teachers’ unions must be at the centre of the process. As many of our members pointed out, this is not just important for educators; it is essential for our students and their learning outcomes.

Teachers cannot pick and choose what they do. They must be evidence based and student focused. They must have access to continuous professional learning and development throughout their careers to keep their practice current. The only way this can be assured is by ensuring teacher unions are central to the process of writing, shaping and implementing their own professional standards. The EI/UNESCO framework features three domains - teaching knowledge and understanding, teaching practice and teaching relations – and provides a template education systems around the world can use to define professional teaching standards in their national setting, together with local teachers’ unions.

We know there are those in education who are quantifying, standardising, digitising; technicists busy trying to push reductionist arguments, peddling ineffective value-added measures to drive teacher behaviour. Our best defence against this is our own professionalism. The status of teachers is not just about pay and conditions. It is about our ability to stand at the centre of what we know - the teaching and learning process. The teaching profession must play a lead role in the design and implementation of the policies and practices necessary to create classrooms that are conducive to quality teaching and learning. Defining what constitutes effective, ethical practice is a core responsibility of the profession. Nothing about us without us.

What is at stake is the very idea of a profession. A profession is defined in its shared knowledge and expertise, and its shared commitment to defending its standards of practice. The alternative approach is to remove the common reference points for determining the right to be called a teacher.

Therefore, this Congress resolution is also a notice to privatisers that education is not for sale. The race to the bottom when it comes to teacher qualifications in low-fee schools will not be allowed to continue without a fight. Several of our members in Africa warned about the pressing need to fight de-professionalisation and to put an end to the precarious status of teachers. No education system can exceed the quality of its teachers. Quality education requires qualifications that work, not some quick fix, fast track system designed to get teachers in and out of the classroom in short bursts. 

Congress made clear that teacher professionalism is not negotiable. Just as we would never want unqualified surgeons operating on our children, we do not want our young people taught by unqualified teachers.

The EI/UNESCO Global framework of professional teaching standards means that we stand over our profession as guardians of ethics and the defenders of standards that work for teachers and their students. It is an important step in transnational cooperation to ensure that the best education is available for all students.

This is not teachers closing down access to the profession, but teachers opening up professionalism to their own scrutiny. Teachers cannot submit to bureaucratic constructions unrelated to the reality of life in the classroom. They can and must provide guidance in every national setting around what matters and what works.

Download the EI Resolution and EI/UNESCO Global Framework.


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David Edwards

David Edwards is the General Secretary of Education International.

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