Education in the Commonwealth is a heterogeneous entity; from the world-leading schools in Singapore to the developing but ambitious system in Kenya. The key to unlocking education in all countries and contexts, however, is a strong body of teachers.
Teachers are important both inside the classroom and as advocates in the community. Whilst they spend their days educating children and young people about the academic curriculum, many spend their evenings advocating for a strong school system both nationally and internationally. They are not only pillars of the education system but also community leaders, and their voice should not be ignored.
Commonwealth teachers recognise the responsibility of governments to ensure that all citizens have access to free, high quality public education, supported by the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a series of international, multilateral instruments. It is vital that Commonwealth governments take the responsibility to deliver education for all seriously and act imminently. Successful implementation of the SDGs depends on it.
Similarly, the future of the Commonwealth and every nation within it rests on the ability of its citizens to engage in the global economy through knowledge and innovation. Education should equip young people with the knowledge, understanding, skills and values to take advantage of opportunities and to face the challenges of the future with confidence. In all nations, no matter what the income level, a high quality of life is dependent on a relevant and complete education, delivered by qualified and empowered teachers.
This requires Commonwealth governments to support and resource schools to build equity and excellence and to ensure opportunities for all young people to become successful learners; confident, resilient and creative individuals; and active and informed citizens. Like all stakeholders in education, Commonwealth governments must not only accept their responsibility but also engage in active and constructive dialogue with other stakeholders, including teachers, school support staff, school leaders, parents and the wider community.
Promoting sustainability and resilience through and in education must be underpinned by learning opportunities that meet not only literacy and numeracy skills but 21st century skills including: thinking critically and making judgments; solving complex, multidisciplinary, open-ended problems; creativity thinking; communicating and collaborating; making innovative use of knowledge, information and opportunities.
Further, there must be genuine commitments by Commonwealth governments to not only adequately resource education but also to build environments that support and enhance the work of teachers as professionals. Teachers have always been committed to ensuring that young learners are given every opportunity to perform at their best, prepared to take advantage of paths presented to them in life and able to participate fully in their society. Commonwealth teachers must be given similar support from the government, with the freedom to teach, the space to advocate and the confidence to innovate and educate for the future.
As we look forward to the Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers in February 2018, education in the Commonwealth will become a key topic for decision-makers. As leaders both inside and outside of the classroom, teachers must be a key part of the education conversation. Without this, education in the Commonwealth – and with it the future of the network – will be at risk.