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Teachers, the heartbeat of the learning recovery

On the 5th of October, we celebrate teachers. 

This year is no different. The past year and a half has been a vivid reminder that teachers are the backbone and heartbeat of every education system. Without them, we would struggle to keep learning on track, let alone on the road to recovery. 

Held annually, UNESCO’s World Teachers’ Day is a global celebration commemorating the anniversary of the adoption of the 1966 ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers. The 1966 Recommendation sets the benchmark for the rights and responsibilities of teachers including their recruitment, employment, and teaching and learning conditions. 

This year, “we are not only celebrating every teacher, we are calling on countries to invest in them and prioritize them in global education recovery efforts so that every learner has access to a qualified and supported teacher”, said Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization, Ms Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, and Mr David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International, in a joint message. 

In a five-day celebration (4 – 8 October, 2021), UNESCO will host a series of global and regional events which aim to showcase the impact of the pandemic on the personnel development of teachers. 

At LEARNTech Asia, we are impacted by our own personal experiences with teachers and as teachers. We are also inspired by the frontliner stories teachers have shared with us. Their struggle to keep learning on track even as they navigate the revolving door of closures, reopening, and recovery. The lessons they have learned as they seek to build back better. 

What it takes to be a qualified teacher has fundamentally changed. Not only is it essential for teachers to use blended pedagogies to deliver hybrid education, teachers must be equipped to provide tailored learning experiences to support at-risk students. Additionally, with the rising issue of mental health, teachers must be skilled in social and emotional management. 

Fluency in EdTech, a must 

The COVID-19 crisis highlighted a large gap in the teaching profession. Many teachers across the world were and are ill-equipped in online teaching, distance learning, and blended learning pedagogies. 

Teachers are expected to develop their students’ skills and knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as technology is the foundation of our uncertain and hyper-competitive world. Yet, teachers are not afforded the same opportunities. Not only are some teachers under-qualified to teach, most are not well supported by their school administrators and education ministries. 

For instance, it was recently made known that “70% of (government school teachers) had zero to 3As in (their) SPM”, shared Teach for Malaysia trustee, Chen Li-Kai. Chen added that while academic results are not the best predictor of an individual’s ability to be an effective teacher, a bare minimum of 7As in the Malaysian Certificate of Education (SPM) is the first step towards the enhancement of professional training of educators in Malaysia

As educational technology (EdTech) was not a compulsory subject for teacher training programs, we have watched teachers across Southeast Asia go the extra mile to do the bare minimum of an online, hybrid, and/or blended classroom. 

Their lack of digital efficacy is widely commented on by students and parents. Irregular class frequencies, overload of classroom activities and assignments, minimal guidance from teachers, and poor management of students’ socio-emotional health are just some of the issues teachers in Southeast Asia are struggling with. 

Additionally, school administrators and education ministries pressure their teachers to outperform and meet key performance indicators (KPIs) that no longer fit the new working environment. 

All of which has seen a great resignation of teachers

The classroom is a reflection of our world 

“Education is a reflection of what’s going on out there. And because we all go through the education system, it also creates the societal standards and societal atmosphere for issues of mental health for the future”, said Mike Thiruman, Singapore Teachers’ Union (STU) general secretary. 

Indeed, the social and emotional management of students is an important aspect of being a teacher. However, the pandemic has stunted the cognitive and social development of children and young people

President Duterte has kept all schools closed in the Philippines, since the start of the pandemic. Even as teachers have gone the distance to make learning more accessible to all, “our youth’s future and wellbeing are at stake, and so is national development”, said Mercedes Arzadon, a professor of education at the University of the Philippines. 

To address this issue, the Ministry of Education in Singapore now mandates all teacher training programs include a mental health literacy subject. Additionally, more teacher-counsellors will be deployed throughout schools in Singapore to assist teachers in the social and emotional management of students. 

Again, teachers are not afforded the same opportunities as their students are. Education ministries and health ministries across Southeast Asia ought to collaborate to find ways to address the growing number of teachers reporting burn out. 

Good teachers are those with “a pastoral side of them … there’s that caring side of them, and interestingly, I find it’s that group of teachers who get especially burnt out”, said Chong Pao-er, a counsellor from Shan You Counselling Centre in Singapore.

Countries that wish to build back better must work towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 – ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

 “Now is the time to recognize the exceptional role teachers play and to empower them with the training, professional development, support and working conditions they need to deploy their talent. Education recovery will be successful if it is conducted hand in hand with teachers – giving them voice and space to participate in decision-making”, said Ms. Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, Mr Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization, Ms Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, and Mr David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International, in a joint message. 

Michelle Low
Michelle Low
Michelle Low is a Malaysia-based writer and educator, with experience in interactive learning and archaeogaming.