Celebrating Higher-Education Teaching Personnel

18 October 2017

“A country that doesn’t respect its teachers cannot pretend to love its children” said Mr. Georges Haddad, President of Paris 1 Panthéon – Sorbonne University, in his address during the World Teachers’ Day global event in Paris.

This year, World Teachers’ Day marked the 20th anniversary of the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel. This was the occasion to bring the spotlight on a subsector of teaching personnel rarely talked about.

The 1997 Recommendation

In 1966, the ILO/UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers was adopted to create an international framework for the rights and responsibilities of teachers, as well as international standards for their initial preparation and further education, recruitment, employment, teaching and learning conditions.

Recognizing that the demands of the teaching profession were slightly different for higher-education teaching personnel, the education community then adopted the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel in 1997. It complements the 1966 Recommendation with a more focused emphasis on aspects such as working conditions and training programmes for teaching and research personnel employed in tertiary education institutions.

The Recommendation defines higher-education teaching personnel as “[…]all those persons in institutions or programmes of higher education who are engaged to teach and/or to undertake scholarship and/or to undertake research and/or to provide educational services to students or to the community at large.” Mr. Haddad further elaborated on this definition by identifying for higher-education teaching personnel the following four pillars: transmission of knowledge, research, creation, and production of knowledge, innovation in the way of teaching and evolution of teaching materials.

The importance of higher-education personnel

Higher-education teaching personnel occupies an important role within education. As highlighted by Mr. Tarek Ahmad, Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, “higher education institutions are partners who contribute to the social and economic development of countries, but also participate to political stability”. Indeed, the research work carried out in institutions of higher education has repercussions in many aspects of our societies and contributes to their development on scientific, social and economic planes.

The work of higher-education teaching personnel also impacts all levels of education, from preprimary to post-basic education and training, including tertiary education institutions. Indeed, through their research work, higher-education teaching personnel take part in the elaboration of curricula taught in other education levels by providing and updating the knowledge used in the development of said curricula. “What makes university is the lifelong transmission of knowledge. […] Higher education teaching is constantly evolving at the pace of advances in knowledge and research” said Mr. Haddad.  

Moreover, to respond to Sustainable Development Goal 4 demands for quality, inclusion and equity, more and more teachers of all subsectors of education receive their training and education in institutions of higher education in an increasing number of countries. Not only are they trained to become expert in their subject, but as Mr. Edem Adubra, Chief of the Section for Teacher Development, explained, they also “acquire the pedagogical skills to be able to translate their expert knowledge into learning experiences for a diverse population of youth and adults."

Mr. Elifas Bisanda, vice-Chancellor of the Open University in Tanzania indicated that his institution considers teacher education as one of its main programmes. The University has, for instance, established certificates and diploma programmes in early childhood education to institutionalize a qualifications framework for teachers in preprimary and kindergarten levels. Mr. Maurice Nkusi from the University of Namibia described how inter-institutional online communities of practice serve as a hub for educational innovations informed by research and practice of educators and teachers across the system.  And Julio Fernandez Techera, Chancellor of  the Catholic University of Uruguay explained that his institution is providing in-service professional training for teachers from seventeen remote and rural schools.

Accountability

The 1997 UNESCO Recommendation also states that “higher-education teaching personnel should contribute to the public accountability of higher-education institutions”. Teacher accountability itself is a complex endeavor, of interest to diverse education stakeholders, from central governments to local communities and parents.

Ms. Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, stated that “across the world, we see the teaching profession is sometimes under pressure… from increasing management demands… from the rise of new technologies… from exploding workloads and insufficient support.”

Teacher evaluations can be performed by a number of stakeholders, from school principals, to fellow teachers, students, or external bodies. This means that as part of their work, teachers are tasked with evaluating educational systems and their fellow teachers’ performances.  

Ms. Katarzyna Kubacka, Research Officer for the Global Education Monitoring Report, gave some insight into the upcoming 2017/8 Global Education Monitoring Report titled “Accountability in Education”, with a focus on the impact of accountability systems on teachers. She indicated that studies have found that accountability systems increase teachers’ workload and stress levels.

In a number of high-income countries, there is a clear trend towards more autonomy and an explicit demand on schools to account for their subsequent performance. In this context, teachers and head teachers are asked to carry out ever more complex management and instruction tasks, often combined with more reporting requirements.

This has, in turn, been found to have repercussions on the quality of teaching as teachers’ motivation goes down and their attention moves away from teaching time. Ms. Kubackka reiterated that “accountability should be a means to education ends, not an end in itself”.

Another unforeseen consequence of the accountability systems put in place are student-led teacher evaluations. Instead of using these evaluations as feedback for teachers to improve their teaching methods, they tend to be used as measures of teachers’ performance, changing the relationship between students and teachers. Indeed, teachers are now viewed as service deliverers and students as customers, which also distorts the transmission of knowledge.

Ms. Bokova further highlighted that there is “an urgent need to prepare teachers to cope with increased demands for more accountability so learning doesn’t suffer.”