A profession with a future

Necessary improvement of living and working conditions and of teacher training

We must, therefore, rethink constantly the content and objectives of our instruction and, in so doing, train teachers differently and offer them, in particular, more attractive or motivating living and working conditions, including salaries and career prospects, to avoid a dangerous loss of interest that weakens, what we must consider to be, the world’s most important profession.

To this end, teacher training at all levels, from the most general to the most specialised, must include more and in better fashion the very essence of the trans-disciplinary spirit, which is the only one capable of enabling our teachers and professors to lead us down the road to creativity and rationality, towards a new humanism of shared progress and development, with respect for our common natural and cultural heritage. 

All these questions constitute the very essence of the UNESCO project to reassess the missions and challenges of education for the next twenty years, based on a close reading of two world reports on education, produced by UNESCO in 1972 (the Edgar Faure Report “Learning to Be)” and in 1996 (the Jacques Delors Report “Learning, the Treasure Within”).  In these reports, the teaching profession occupies its rightful essential position.

Teachers, whose missions and careers must be constantly recast and reconsidered in the light of new requirements and new challenges to education in a constantly changing globalised world, must certainly be accorded a central and strategic place in this new project.

Qualitative approach to the teaching profession

We can state unequivocally that the considerable increase of knowledge, brought about by research and development, requires more than ever a qualitative approach to its transmission, dissemination and acquisition, at individual and collective levels.  The unanimously shared assessment is leading us towards a “renaissance” of the teaching profession, putting it again at the centre of the socio-cultural fabric, as the common thread underlying the dynamics and balance of our Knowledge Society.

With the indispensable support of information and communication technologies, the teacher is now emerging even more as a guide who enables us from early childhood to develop and advance in the constantly expanding maze of knowledge. 

The teaching profession is constantly being diversified to the point of corresponding, from early childhood to adulthood, to several professions, all tied by a common thread.  In this regard, we know with certainty that cognitive development starts from the first moments of life and that the learning and discovering processes must be guided and supported, from the early years of childhood, by particularly well trained and qualified teachers.  These principles were unanimously affirmed at the world conference on early childhood care and education organised by UNESCO in Moscow in 2010.

Finally, at the other end of the education chain, modern requirements for qualifying and professional retraining programmes, constantly updated owing to the longer life expectancy and its consequences on our socio-professional activities, call for training for highly specialised and qualified teachers.

Teachers and “new humanism”

To conclude, we shall try to explain the reasons why the “new humanism” which we have to build, is based in large measure on the teaching profession, which we must reassess in all its socio-professional components and dynamics.

In asserting their will to power, human beings have created a time-space environment that seems in opposition to, and even in conflict, with the natural time-space environment. 

Thus, through scientific and technological progress, we have laid the premises of a world that will gradually diminish and even cause to disappear such natural phenomena as the seasons, distances, and the very rhythms of life on the planet:  a world of instantaneity and ubiquity, where the virtual dimension overlaps with the real.

The human population continues to grow and to live longer, whilst animal and plant species that preceded us and accompanied us in all the stages of our evolution, are disappearing.  Our environment is threatened considerably and the very notion of progress is questioned.

In particular, climate change, undoubtedly connected to human activity, is endangering our planet and requiring that we reconsider, in depth, the activities and the ensuing professions.

Ever since they appeared on earth, human beings, like their more distant cousins, had to confront all sorts of dangers imposed by nature in order to survive.  This constant adversity undoubtedly helped to reinforce and to develop man’s intellectual faculties. Confronted by formidable challenges to survive and assert themselves, human beings managed to find gradually pertinent answers and to hand them down to future generations so that they could use and improve them.

Education, key to humanity’s survival and growth

Education, that is to say the transmission of knowledge and its advancement, has evidently been the central driving force for the survival and growth of the human race on earth.  Against this background of cognitive evolution which was initially slow to appear, but which has been accelerating without respite, arises, as a matter of course, the historical question of the teaching profession, its emergence and its gradual socio-cultural institutionalisation.

We shall not broach this important and complex question here, preferring to leave it up to experts and researchers to shed light on certain contemporary aspects of this teaching profession and mission in this presentation.

ICTs do not replace teachers

It was not long ago, around the 1980s, that some experts had dared to predict a slow but certain disappearance of the teaching profession owing to the spectacular development of information and communication technologies in the service of, and for the dissemination of, knowledge. 

They alleged that the computer and all sorts of new technologies would gradually replace teachers, bringing about a broader dissemination of knowledge, better accessibility and, above all, savings in means and resources by what was referred to as the massification of access to education.

It is altogether legitimate to state that given the exponential growth of knowledge, and the indispensably fair availability thereof, for the benefit of the largest number of people in all the regions of the world, information and communication technologies (ICTs) play an essential role in the sharing of knowledge and expertise in the service of sustainable development in solidarity.

Priority to the teacher

We must nonetheless acknowledge that such predictions and anticipations are today no longer absolutely pertinent and that the teaching profession is regaining its vigour, day by day, to the point of being considered again a priority of education policies in all countries. This is what UNESCO has never ceased to aver ever since it was created in 1945, considering the teacher as an absolute priority for education and insisting still today, in spite of the difficulties encountered, to enshrine the teaching issue at the very heart of its multiyear programmes of activities.

By way of example, and, in a historical context for UNESCO, we shall mention:  the joint recommendation by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNESCO on the status of teachers in 1996, the recommendation on the status of higher education personnel in 1997, the joint ILO/UNESCO committee of experts on the application of recommendations concerning teaching staff of the World Teachers’ Day organised every year by UNESCO, not to mention flagship initiatives in favour of teachers in all the regions of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. 

We should also note that, in these different contexts, as well as in most activities carried out by UNESCO for teachers, Education International has been a committed and dynamic partner. 

We should also note that since Greco-Roman antiquity, the teaching profession is officially recognised by the State, but paradoxically, education appeared to be a mission devolved to another category of people, namely educated slaves, put in charge of guiding and supporting the children of rich Patrician families.

This aspect of education, apart from the slavery, bears a striking resemblance to the dichotomies of the current educational systems with institutional teachers on the one hand, and private tutoring, or educational support, outside the school, on the other, which is continuing to develop incessantly to the detriment of children from modest backgrounds, and constitutes a booming lucrative market.

This recurrent dilemma, between instruction and education, arises all the more sharply as teachers are faced with a constantly growing student population which, in today’s context of life-long learning, includes the constantly growing demand from adults with widely diverse backgrounds, needs and requirements.

It therefore becomes necessary to analyse, albeit briefly, this powerful comeback of the teaching profession, after a dark period when officials on all sides took the liberty of recommending a “MacDonaldisation” of education, especially in more vulnerable countries, and were looking to impose a mass “production” of teachers to the detriment of essential criteria of competence and quality.  Fortunately, good sense stepped up in the end to make us realise that we were on the wrong track and that, with such policies, we are leading developing countries – and by a domino effect, all other countries – towards certain degradation.

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