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A Reflection on World Teachers’ Day 2011

In 2005, I travelled to Tanzania, a country where CODE works, to visit schools and meet with educators. I saw the classrooms through the eyes of a teacher. I remember wonderful, welcoming classrooms full of many visual aids, caring professionals and highly motivated learners. I also noticed the large class sizes, which could rise to 80-100 students for one teacher.

The Education for All initiative and Millennium Development Goal 2 have contributed to significant progress toward universal access to primary education in many parts of the world. But as a recent study by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics points out, the number of schools and teachers required in many developing countries has not kept pace with the dramatic rise in school enrolment. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, where enrolment has soared in the past decade, teachers are in particularly short supply. Taking attrition into account, sub-Saharan Africa will need to recruit 350,000 new primary-level teachers per year up to 2015 to ensure that every child has access to quality education.

Today, October 5, I join 30 million teachers in the education community around the globe to celebrate World Teachers’ Day. The brainchild of a former Canadian educator, Norman Goble, UNESCO and Education International established World Teachers’ Day in 1994 as an opportunity “to celebrate the teaching profession and to promote international standards for the teaching profession.” The theme in 2011 is “Teachers for Gender Equality”.

As a licensed teacher in Ontario, I can appreciate the significance and importance of this theme. When I began teaching in the 1960s, few female educators held administrative positions in most school boards. In fact, in my school board, there was only one female principal. Since that time, the number of female administrators has caught up with the number of female educators in many parts of the world.

As I reflect on the UNESCO Institute for Statistics study findings related to the shortage of teachers in many parts of the developing world, it strikes me that what is needed is not only more teachers, but teachers with the right skills to be able to use effective, active instructional strategies that encourage students to become responsible citizens, critical thinkers and lifelong learners. We at CODE contribute to addressing this need in the countries where we work through professional development programs for teachers as part of our comprehensive literacy model known as Reading CODE. Through CODE-sponsored workshops, teachers acquire strategies to teach reading comprehension, engage learners through child-centered approaches, share best practices and reflect on their teaching.

CODE also reinforces this training with the publishing of local language, culturally relevant, quality educational children’s books and other reading materials that help teachers to supplement textbooks and engage the imagination and creativity of students. In Tanzania, for example, CODE’s local partner, the Children’s Book Project for Tanzania, is a leader in providing schools and libraries with locally-published children’s books and in-service training to help teachers use these resources effectively in the classroom.

I know from professional experience the value of this approach to teaching. Throughout my career as an educator in Canada, I have made it a practice to incorporate read-alouds and shared readings as part of my lessons. I enjoy reading children’s books to the students and relating the pictures to the story. I always try to read two or three books aloud as part of the Project Love presentations in schools across Canada.

CODE, through its Reading CODE program, is providing schools in Africa and in the Caribbean with the teaching skills and educational resources to make a difference in the classroom of the future.

Happy World Teachers’ Day to my teaching colleagues!

C. Garth Brooks
Senior Program Manager for Canadian Engagement, CODE