Teacher Leadership in the time of COVID-19

At the Global Education Meeting, ministers and experts renewed calls for the international community to support teachers as they lead responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

November 05, 2020 by Sonia Guerriero, UNESCO Section for Teacher Development
4 minutes read
A teacher with her students in their classroom at the Ridaki District, School #181 in Tajikistan. Credit: GPE/ Carine Durand
A teacher with her students in their classroom at the Ridaki District, School #181 in Tajikistan.
Credit: Credit: GPE/ Carine Durand

A special high-level panel on teachers, held on October 20 to address the future of teaching and learning, highlighted the leadership, creativity and resilience of teachers as they have responded to the pandemic and ensured learning has continued throughout the complex and unfolding set of circumstances it has brought about.

The event was part of a virtual Global Education Meeting (GEM) on Education post-COVID-19, convened by UNESCO with the support of the governments of Ghana, Norway and the United Kingdom.

The meeting aimed to secure commitments from leaders for the protection of education financing during the COVID-19 recovery, and to produce a consensus on priority actions for the coming year.

“Societies should take this opportunity to recognize the social value of the teaching profession”, declared Jaime Saavedra, Global Director for Education at The World Bank. He added, “we must ensure teachers are prepared to fulfil the extremely complex task which has been entrusted to them”.

Teachers: Leading in crisis, reimagining the future

The landscape of education has changed profoundly this year and the future is uncertain. Schools remain closed nationally in 35 countries, affecting over 500 million students, while the pandemic has disrupted the work of 63 million primary and secondary school teachers and the education of over 90% of the world’s students.

During a week-long series of regional and global events, organized with the International Task Force on Teachers, IIEP, OECD, Education Development Trust, Teach for All, the Hamdan and Varkey Foundations, and Apple, World Teachers’ Day celebrations, UNESCO’s flagship event on teachers, analyzed various initiatives and challenges in relation to remote learning, whether in low-, mid- or high-tech environments, and payed particular attention to collaborative, teacher-led responses and to ICT skills and gaps.

World Teachers’ Day also served as the backdrop to the publication of a “Gender in teaching: a key dimension of inclusion” infographic and the World Teachers’ Day 2020 Fact Sheet. Both follow up on the 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report, which this year addressed “Inclusion in education: All means all”.

Identifying inequalities in the teaching profession

Research conducted by UNESCO indicates that, globally, the teaching profession does not reflect the diversity found in society. Women are underrepresented in school leadership positions, and in the tertiary sector, as well as being under-represented in a number of low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa, while, for their part, men are under-represented in the lower grades and in higher-income countries.

To address these imbalances, governments should develop policies to encourage women to enter leadership positions, such as offering flexible working hours and family allowances. Likewise, teacher education institutions and district offices can support female teachers so they advance into leadership positions by targeting them during pre-service and in-service training, and, in so doing, building their leadership competencies and skills.

In sub-Saharan Africa and other low-income countries, it is essential to support women and girls so more of them complete secondary education and, in turn, to encourage them to participate in teacher-training programs to ensure there are more qualified female teachers and more inclusive classrooms.

COVID-19 and its aftermath: remote teaching and ICT skills

In a recent UNESCO/UNICEF/World Bank survey of countries’ responses to COVID-19, 62% of countries reported giving practical guidelines for ICT-based teaching. However, this ranged from 71% in high-income countries to just 44% in lower middle-income and low-income countries.

Additional training on distance education for teachers was less common. It was offered by half of all countries, and was more frequent in lower middle- and low-income countries (56%) than in high-income countries (43%). This may be explained by greater needs in lower-income countries.

To address these gaps, UNESCO launched a Global Education Coalition, which provides coordinated global support to national educational responses. It now counts over 150 partners and is taking action in 70 countries.

A flagship initiative of the GEC is the “Global Teacher Campus”, which implements capacity-building and training programs to provide the teaching community with much-needed digital skills and distance learning pedagogies and tools.

Reimagining the future of education

The crisis has serious negative consequences for education and learning, but it is also an opportunity to rethink some approaches to teaching, and indeed to reimagine the teaching profession and education systems more generally. It should be used as a platform to “build back better”, by hiring more teachers, ensuring they are qualified, developing their skills (notably in ICT and pedagogy) and advocating for their health and wellbeing as they grapple with the “new normal”.

At the system level, moving towards the recovery and resilience-building phase, it is important that teachers are integrated into global and national COVID-19 response and recovery plans to ensure the continuity of learning, improved provision, and more inclusive national systems and capacities.

Moreover, it is essential that their active involvement, ongoing feedback, and peer-led collaborations and initiatives are born in mind at all times, and at all levels, whether in the classroom, in school-leadership positions or at the community level.

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