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Expert Comment on World Teachers' Day: Teacher education for global social justice

0016 Mr Philip Bamber Wednesday 5 October 2016

On World Teachers' Day, Dr Philip Bamber, Head of the Department of Education Studies, discusses teacher education's vital role in global social justice.   

This Wednesday 5th October, marks World Teachers’ Day. UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) began marking this day in 1994, celebrating the great step made for teachers on 5 October 1966, when a special intergovernmental conference convened by UNESCO in Paris adopted the UNESCO/ILO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers, in cooperation with the ILO.

In the 50 years since that important event we have seen the emergence of a truly global economy, a revolution in transport and information and communications technology, the reality of climate change and world-wide migration, the end of the cold war and start of a global war on terror.

World Teachers’ Day 2016 therefore provides an important opportunity to reflect upon the role and purpose of education in general, and teacher education in particular, in responding to the crises facing humanity and the planet upon which we all depend.

What then is the role of teacher education in responding to these challenges of our time? One position is to dismiss such talk as alarmist and irrelevant – a distraction from the core business of education. Those who take this short-term view invoke pressures to increase standards of numeracy and literacy, an already over-crowded curriculum and accountability measures to justify their stance.

This approach not only fails to provide a solution to the multiple challenges we face but is fundamentally part of the problem.  Indeed, ‘without significant precautions, education can equip people merely to be more effective vandals of the earth’ (Orr, 2004: 5). The marketization and commodification of education, discourses and practices relating to performativity and competitiveness in education, the self-serving culture of the individual and the functionality of the knowledge economy are all indicative of ways in which education has separated ourselves from one another. There is an urgent need re-calibrate our systems and practices of education to not only equip young people for the global economy but for lives in service of the common good.

There is strong evidence (Think Global, 2015) that educators embrace opportunities to incorporate a global perspective: for instance the vast majority of teachers (94%) agree global education is important and schools should prepare pupils to deal with a fast-changing and globalised world (ibid.). Nevertheless, the same research also found that only 58% of teachers felt that the current school system actually does this.

In the same survey, 85% of young, less-established teachers identified ‘thinking about the potential contribution of teaching to making the world a better place’ as a reason for remaining in teaching. That learning about global issues may be a significant factor in retaining teachers, particularly amongst those recently qualified, provides a compelling incentive to incorporate this perspective, especially when the number of entrants to the profession in the UK is falling and those leaving is at an all-time high (TES, 2015).

International calls for teacher education to promote such forms of global education have never been greater. For instance, following the end of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in 2014, the UNESCO Roadmap for implementing a Global Action Programme on ESD identifies one of 5 priority action areas to be ‘building capacities of educators and trainers to more effectively deliver Education for Sustainable Development’ (UNESCO, 2014, p.15).

This includes an expected outcome that ESD becomes integrated in pre-service and in-service teacher education programmes. There is much to be done, but here at Liverpool Hope University we are helping to lead these developments. In September this year we hosted the 9th annual conference of the UK Teacher Education for Equity and Sustainability Network which was attended by academics, practitioners and policy makers from across Europe. 

School of Teacher Education at Liverpool Hope

World Teachers' Day

Dr Philip Bamber is Head of Department of Education Studies at Liverpool Hope University and co-editor of ‘Teacher Education in Challenging Times: lessons for professionalism, partnership and practice’ published by Routledge in July 2016. 

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