‘It’s time we learnt to respect teachers’

Posted on January 29, 2016 · Posted in Blog, General, Projects

Our lack of respect towards teachers is not just morally wrong, it’s sabotaging the education system, writes Sunny Varkey


Today marks the twentieth annual World Teachers’ Day – a day on which we should all celebrate the teaching profession.

Most of us can remember at least one teacher who had a profound effect on our early life, someone who had a positive impact on us and made us the person we are today.

My interest is even more personal as my parents were teachers. My mother has spoken to me fondly about the goodwill that teachers enjoyed in their community of Kerala, Southern India. They were often the most educated people locally – to be consulted as a source of guidance and advice.

Sadly, things have changed in many parts of the world. Last year, the Varkey GEMS Foundation commissioned the Global Teacher Status Index, the world’s first attempt to compare the status of teachers around the world.

It found that there still was great respect for teachers in many Asian societies – especially in China, Korea and Singapore. But in the West, levels of respect were much lower.

Less than 25 per cent of people in European countries tended to think that pupils respected teachers – compared to 75 per cent in China.

And when we asked whether people would encourage their children to become teachers, just 20 per cent of Germans and 25 per cent of British people said that they definitely would.

We thought it would be telling to ask people to name another profession which they felt had a comparable status to teaching.

In the West, teachers were overwhelmingly thought of in the same bracket as librarians or social workers. Compare that to China, where teachers were considered to have an equal status to that of doctors.

This lack of respect for teachers in the West is clear when you consider how doctors are viewed. You only have to look at the mainstream media to see how celebrated the medical profession rightly is.

When teachers do get a mention in the media they are often blamed for a vast array of society’s ills: from the loss of good manners to the decline in competitive sport to the shortage of entrepreneurs.

This attitude towards teachers is not just morally wrong, it’s sabotaging the education system. If we constantly attack teachers, we will miss out on generations of talented graduates who will not want to join a profession that is constantly derided.

That’s why it’s time to really recognise the role teachers play in developing young people’s minds and bettering society. It’s why we have created the first ever global teacher prize – open to those who teach children that are in compulsory schooling or are below the age of eighteen – to find an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession.

If our culture so richly rewards celebrities, actors and sports stars, heaping praise and riches on them, why should not an outstanding teacher be equally celebrated? Why shouldn’t teachers have their own equivalent of the Nobel Prize or the Oscars?

Due to the huge number of high quality nominations we have extended the deadline, so there is still a week left to nominate a worthy teacher.

Ten candidates will then be shortlisted in early December and the winner announced next March at the Global Education & Skills Forum. The winning teacher will receive $1m – awarded over a period of ten years.

The winning candidate will be a teacher who has achieved exceptional results in student learning, and won the respect of the community through activities beyond the classroom.

They will have been a role model to other teachers through charity, community work or other cultural achievements, will have encouraged other teachers to join the profession and contributed to discussions and debates about how to raise teaching standards.

But the prize is not just about one teacher – it’s about unearthing thousands of stories of inspiration; examples of quietly heroic teachers who, against great odds, enthuse their classes, bring out the best in their pupils, and help them overcome the things that are holding them back.

There was a teacher behind every great inventor, every great philosopher and every great idea in history. Fierce independent minds – from Nelson Mandela to Steve Jobs – have paid tribute to the influence of a teacher during their early years.

The fiendishly complex challenges of the modern age – from climate change to frenetic technological change to global conflict – will require better ideas, and better teachers, than ever.

Sunny Varkey is founder and trustee of the Varkey GEMS Foundation. This article was published in the telegraph.co.uk on 5 October 2014.

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