An “impossible profession”. For Sigmund Freud, education, like government and psychoanalysis, represented an undertaking “in which one can be sure beforehand of achieving unsatisfying results*”. It is no easy task to simultaneously transmit knowledge, maintain classroom discipline, stimulate curiosity, impart the rules of living together and train future citizens.
The challenge is all the more difficult to take on in contexts that are marked – too often – by a lack of resources, overcrowded classrooms, or even the risk that the teacher’s original purpose loses its meaning.
Certainly, everyone recognizes the key role teachers play. On a personal level, we can all name at least one teacher who made a difference – sometimes to such an extent that it redirected our whole lives. At the international level, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Goal 4 in particular, recognize the importance of teachers in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda by 2030.
Yet, the profession is being undermined. The development of cognitive neuroscience and the many applications of new technologies in the field of education are forcing the profession to adapt and reinvent itself.
Once respected and valued, the role of the teacher is now contested, with teachers being held accountable for the failures of the education system. This negative perception of them can – in some cases – result in intimidation, or even violence, by students or their families.
In fact, the profession is struggling to attract new recruits. After a few years of practice, many teachers are throwing in the towel. A 2014 study conducted in the United States on a sample of 50,000 teachers** shows that more than forty-one per cent of them (primary and secondary education levels combined) leave the profession within five years of entering it.
Low wages, limited career advancement, strong societal pressures and a lack of resources are all factors that discourage young people from pursuing this career.
Yet, over 69 million teachers will have to be recruited by 2030 to achieve the SDGs. Of these, 48.6 million new recruits will be needed to replace teachers leaving the profession. There is already an acute shortage of teachers in South and West Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa.
In this context, how can we attract a new generation of motivated teachers? This question inspired the theme of the 2019 edition of World Teachers' Day, 5 October: Young Teachers: The Future of the Profession.
But beyond the alarming numbers, statistics and headlines, there are still teachers who are not discouraged by the difficult situation. Teachers who continue teaching in the most impoverished settings, in overcrowded classrooms. Teachers who choose to focus on learners with troubled backgrounds, those who are out of the school system or in remote areas. Teachers for whom teaching is a commitment, a daily struggle. It is these teachers that the Courier is honouring today.
Vincent Defourny and Agnès Bardon
* Freud, S., 1937. Analysis Terminable and Interminable.
** Ingersoll, R., Merrill, E., Stuckey, D. and Collins G., 2014, updated October 2018. Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force. Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) Research Reports.
This Wide Angle section is published to mark the occasion of World Teachers' Day, celebrated on 5 October every year.