By Marco Grazia, Dennis Sinyolo & Gabriela Miranda
On this World Teachers’ Day, as communities around the globe continue to reel from the impact of COVID-19, recognition and commemoration of teachers is simply not enough. The importance of teachers to the lives and well-being of children and youth has never been more acutely felt. The centrality of teachers to COVID-19 recovery efforts is clear. However, what is less clear is the support that teachers themselves are being given to play their needed role throughout response and recovery from the pandemic.
No substitute for a good teacher
The global pandemic and its impact on education has revealed failures in the system and has posed new challenges for a new era. Teachers have proven instrumental in educational responses and demonstrated their creativity in adapting to new circumstances (UNESCO). School closures and lengthy interruptions have required teachers to adapt teaching methods from traditional in-person classes to online lessons, prepare and deliver lessons and learning materials in new ways, and find new means to regularly check in with students. However, in many developing countries, very little learning has taken place due to the digital divide. This has awoken many parents, families, and communities to the importance of in-class learning and the child well-being role that teachers play.
While many parts of the world have turned to remote learning to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, nearly half of all students worldwide – 826 million from pre-primary through tertiary – do not have a household computer and 706 million (43%) do not have internet access at home (UNESCO). According to a new World Vision report on an assessment conducted in the Asia-Pacific region during April-June 2021, two-thirds of children reported that their schools were still closed, and 40% were not attending school in any way, including remotely. Even those who have been able to access distance learning testify that it is an insufficient substitute for in-class learning. As Aisha in Nigeria describes, it has been challenging to catch up on learning that was lost during school closures: “The worst thing about not being at school is the amount of things that you miss. Because as we all know learning behind a screen and learning in person is incomparable.”
Beyond learning, children and youth look up to their teachers as mentors, role models, and additional support for their wellbeing more broadly. In many contexts, teachers play critical roles in protecting children from violence and abuse. They are often the first to notice when a child is being affected by a family situation or being bullied at school and are able to work with families and community members to find solutions. For example, teachers like Patrick in Uganda can support at-risk girls to protect them from child marriage and help them continue their education.
Teachers need protection and support
While the continued education and protection of children are top priority, we cannot overlook that teachers themselves have been seriously impacted by the pandemic. There is no more stark reminder of this than Education International’s COVID-19 teacher memorial of colleagues we have lost to the pandemic.
During times of crisis like COVID-19, teachers must be protected and provided psychosocial support. They also need to be equipped with specific skills for psychosocial support and social-emotional learning so they may in turn better support affected students and children.
This is even more needed in emergency and crisis contexts where teachers already lack support and resources and face existing challenges such as poor infrastructure, children suffering from pre-existing post-traumatic stress, and safety and security issues (INEE). Support from partnerships like Education Cannot Wait (ECW) is essential in these contexts, with ECW’s recently released Annual Results Report showing the importance of supporting teachers to maintain quality and continuity of education in emergency settings. In 2020, ECW recruited and financially supported 12,182 teachers and trained 42,381 teachers, of which 17,469 were trained on disaster risk reduction, emergency preparedness, and risk management. Some 310,600 teachers were trained on COVID-19 related topics, such as distance learning, COVID-19 protocols, and health and hygiene promotion. While these results are remarkable, they remain a drop in the ocean given the millions of teachers who need support in crisis or contexts of fragility.
The additional economic impact of the pandemic and, for example, related increases in hunger can also force not only children but also teachers to sacrifice their school duties in search of food or the means to pay for it (World Vision). Teachers must be prioritized for support, including through undisrupted payment of salaries, to protect them from COVID-19’s impacts and ensure their presence and readiness for school re-openings.
The world was already facing a global teacher shortage prior to COVID-19, with 69 million new teachers needed to achieve SDG 4. While partnerships like ECW have increased the share of teachers trained specifically on issues pertaining to education in emergencies topics – such as mental health, psychosocial support, gender, and inclusion in COVID-19 responses – the crisis still threatens to further exacerbate this shortage if more is not done (INEE).
A call to support teachers on this World Teachers’ Day
Teachers have the right to decent work and to work in safe, healthy and well-resourced environments. They need unwavering support from governments, communities, and international actors. Teachers should be able to work in decent conditions, free of discrimination with equal pay and equal opportunities for female teachers.
Today, in recognition of the essential role teachers play in society, we call on governments, international agencies, and communities to:
- Involve teachers in policy development and decision-making processes, for instance in developing national education curricula, emergency response plans, and any decision that might affect their work and education policy.
- Support teachers’ training, professional development, and working conditions throughout crises, including psychosocial support and skill-building and undisrupted payment of salaries.
- Increase support to partnerships like ECW and the Global Partnership for Education that play critical roles in education crisis response and recovery.
- Collect lessons learned from COVID-19’s impact on teachers for more effective response planning in future crises.
Marco Grazia, Global Director, Child Protection & Education in Emergencies at World Vision International, Dennis Sinyolo - Chief Regional Coordinator - Education International African Region and Gabriela Miranda, Intern for the Technical Unit for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action and Education in Emergencies at World Vision International