Teachers’ role in transforming education | Sunday Observer

Teachers’ role in transforming education

2 October, 2022

Some years ago, while following a training course in London, I was waiting at a Metro station when an advertisement pasted on the opposite wall of the platform caught my attention. It had just four words. Four words I will never forget. “Those who can, teach”.

Indeed, the advertisement, which called on those willing to become teachers to apply to the education authorities, contained a powerful message - not everyone can teach. It takes something special to become a teacher – a person who guides the destinies of thousands of children over several decades of service. Our parents are our first teachers, but from age 5-6 onwards the teachers take over until we leave the education system (school, university or vocational) as worthy citizens.

Lessons of life

Teachers not only teach you lessons from textbooks, but they also teach the lessons of life. In a way, it is the latter that finally makes you a fine man or woman, someone who is useful to society and others around you. It is the teachers who mould good future citizens. And having had a mother who was a teacher herself, I know that all too well. To her, all students were her sons and daughters, not just her own children. That is how teachers think. It is a noble, selfless thought. Teaching is undoubtedly one of the noblest professions on Earth. Teachers are people worthy of celebrating for what they bring into our lives: knowledge, discipline, values and skills.

It is these special people that we will be honouring on World Teachers’ Day (WTD) on October 5. Although we should be bearing in mind their contribution to make us what we are today, having a special day helps the society to focus on what more should be done to recognise and reward teachers. It has been celebrated worldwide under the auspices of UNESCO and Education International, the global teachers’ trade union, since 1994.


The theme for World Teachers’ Day 2022 is “The transformation of education begins with teachers”. Celebrations will address the commitments and calls for action made at the Transforming Education Summit, in September 2022, and analyse the implications they have for teachers and teaching. 

In countries that do have Universal Primary Education, schooling is compulsory for both sexes at least up to 15 years of age. Sri Lanka is one of the few developing countries with exemplary education statistics that often match those of the developed world, thanks to its free education policy, which covers the entire student life from primary grades to university. There has been no discrimination whatsoever towards girls in this country, in sharp contrast to several other countries in our region.

But the lack of teachers for certain grades and subjects is an acute problem. Even if a school has all physical facilities such as desks and chairs, good classrooms, lab facilities and playgrounds, no school is truly complete without good teachers. One cannot think of education without thinking of teachers.

In fact, one of the main challenges to the right of education worldwide is the continued shortage of teachers. There are an estimated 264 million children still out of school globally, and according to UNESCO, the world needs to recruit almost 69 million new teachers to reach the 2030 education goal of universal primary and secondary education. Millions of students are also staying at home after having dropped out during the pandemic.

Vulnerable populations

This ‘teacher gap’ is more pronounced among vulnerable populations – girls, children with disabilities, refugee and migrant children, and poor children living in rural or remote areas. UNESCO estimates that to achieve the goal of universal primary education by end 2022, all countries will need to recruit over 13 million primary teachers in the short term.

Teachers deserve to be treated on par with the dignity and honour attached to their noble profession. Government teachers are also forced to undergo tremendous ordeals and inconveniences due to transfers, entailing disruption of their family lives. Some schools they serve in, particularly in the rural areas, are without basic facilities that are often highlighted in TV news bulletins.

Time was when the teaching profession was looked upon with awe and reverence and teachers enjoyed recognition and respect as prominent citizens of society. One recalls the status enjoyed by the good old Iskole Mahattaya in the village who was considered an oracle of sorts, to whom villages flocked to, for advice and counsel. Sadly, this phenomenon is no longer in existence, the passage of time, like with everything else taking a heavy toll on old values and practices. This change in the times is even reflected in the conduct of our teachers who hardly have time to spare for their charges caught up in the rat race.

The perception of teaching as a profession is not all that rosy here and in many other countries. There should be a renewed drive to recruit trainee teachers which stresses the fact that teaching is a rewarding experience in more ways than one. Quite apart from any monetary consideration, good teachers always take pride in moulding good citizens who are useful to society. That is one of the perks of being a teacher and only a very few other professions can make the same claim.

Bigger contribution

Teachers will be able to make an even bigger contribution if they are given more recognition, resources, training and facilities. They continue to face challenges brought about by poor training and low status. Teachers must be given every opportunity to receive additional training in the subjects they teach and other subjects as well. One must also not underestimate the service rendered by sports and physical training teachers, for sports help children become better citizens who can accept victory and defeat in sport as well as in life with equal composure.

More training should be given to those who are already in the profession, with attention to career enhancement, promotion prospects and technology skills. A teacher’s education too is never complete. Teachers must also evolve with the times, because printed textbooks and traditional blackboards could go out of style in a decade or so. With Governments around the world intending to move to a tablet-based, paperless education system, teachers must be trained in new techniques of teaching with such devices. We experienced the potential of this during the pandemic, though not all students had the devices (or the 4G signals) needed to get online lessons. But the future is here already and teachers must adapt. This is part of “transforming education” .

With today’s emphasis on online teaching and learning especially in a post-Covid environment, some experts wonder whether teaching could some day go entirely virtual. But should there be a world without in-person teaching? I, for one, would not like to see that go away. ‘Live’ interaction with a teacher makes lessons more interesting and rewarding. The human element is very much a part of education and in my opinion, it can never be entirely replaced with machines which can, however, be an invaluable aid. Long live the teachers of the world.