Tomorrow, 5 October, is the World Teachers’ Day, also called International Teachers Day. So, when we celebrate teachers everywhere, let us note that a global teacher is also a local teacher. A teacher to the world is also a teacher to the local community, yes, first we are local then we can spread out. Yet, in our time, a local community can also be multicultural, or it can still be made up just of one single ethnic group, which, if we look back in history, may have a multitude and mixture of backgrounds, and today, contacts and aspirations beyond what we see on the surface. Children everywhere have a rainbow in them; they are interested in exploring what is near and far away. Luckily, they are blind, and they make friends across ethnic and racial borders; they don’t even know that such exist, but learn about them as they grow up. Everywhere, children are alike and like this. What a beautiful ‘material’ teachers have to work with! Through that, teachers become alike, too, all over the world; they teach pupils who are alike and different, and they see greatness in all, the gifted and fast, the handicapped and slow, the noisy and quiet, all with dreams and uniqueness and abilities – with the gentle guidance of the teacher, who grows and sees more of the world with his or her pupils.

Teachers everywhere know that the foundation of becoming a good teacher is to build trust with the kids; first they will be listened to, then they will listen. They will ask questions about all under the sky and listen to the answers, and find out more on their own and from others, from library books and Internet, too. That is what children should do to be good and happy children and become good and happy adults. A happy and confident child can also be inquisitive and demanding. That will make the teacher happy and confident.

When the pupils and teachers are happy, the parents will be the happiest and most optimistic people on earth, together with the other people in the local communities; the local leaders, the custodians of moral and other standards, the future employers, the teachers at the higher educational institutions, and so on. They will know that there is a good breed being groomed, that the world might actually be better when the new kids take over – because they have had good teachers and parents, having grown up in good communities, be they tiny villages or huge metropolis.

This year, UNESCO, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, emphasizes this and it has chosen the following theme for the day: “The right to education means the right to a qualified teacher”. Many teachers need to upgrade their qualifications and new ones trained. It has been calculated that by 2030, the target year of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), some 70 million new teachers are needed to reach the goals, notably universal education for all children and youth, including those 265 million out-of-school children and youth. The new SDG goal No. 4 is not only universal primary school, but also universal secondary school for all.

Let me say a few words about formal education before I say a bit more about the broader role of education and socialization in society.

In many countries, the role and status of teachers were higher a few generations ago. In 1966, UNESCO and ILO, the International Labour Organization, supported by Education International, the international organization for teachers unions, signed an agreement to help safeguard a good teaching profession, with good salaries and good work conditions for all; today, that is as important as then. It means good pre-service training of teachers as well as good in-service training and upgrading of skills throughout the career. Teachers must have access to Internet and new information, and they must be able to work with the children and youth in these modern fields, also realizing that often the young generation is better than the teachers at new things. It is only good if the teacher doesn’t always know best; it would be an encouragement to older students if they can help their teachers and fellow students, the same way as a strong young man can help his father on the farmland or in the forest, and a healthy and smart girl can help her mother, aunt or uncle with their heavy duties. Modern technology has the potential to make us realize that not all can be good at everything, and everyone can no longer know all.

In Pakistan and also in the West, including my home country Norway and in Sweden, where I studied, it happens that children go through primary and even lower secondary school without learning the basic knowledge and skills, not even the ‘3Rs’, reading writing and arithmetic. At the same time, we keep making the curriculum more and more overcrowded, often with entirely unimportant content.

If I were ever to get the chance to be education minister, in any country, I would get rid of three-quarters on the ‘nonsense’ children have to learn, be tested in and graded in. Instead, I would let them focus on exploring the world – yes, and learning more than ever because they would be exited and interested in what they do. I would let the teachers be advisers, helpful and wise adults, who talk with the pupils, discuss issues about many things, indeed about how to live a happy life in a competitive and often, unequal and difficult world. Teachers should help us learn how to look after our physical and mental health, and how to find meaning and purpose in life under all circumstances.

A few days ago, I listened to an interview on SVT, Sweden, with a Danish poet, Naja Marie Aidt, who had lost her son in an accident when he was only 25; he had taken and overdose of poisonous mushrooms, and had jumped or fallen from his fourth floor balcony. The mother said that it had taken her very long to get strength to go on in life, and that it was her other children who had helped her to do that, because they too needed her. She said that she had realised more clearly than before that the meaning of life is simply to love and care for others, but also oneself – and she stressed that the rest of her life, she would protect the memory of her son, who no longer could protect himself.

I came to think of how little we have learnt at school about coping in such situations. Yet, we will all, sooner or later in life, experience difficulties, grief and other problems. In future, many will lose their jobs, many will need to be trained and re-trained during a career, and others will not find work or be laid off early. Even if there are government welfare systems, or just family-based systems, such as in Pakistan, every person would like to contribute to society rather than to receive help from others. Our education systems and teachers should be able to teach us more about how to handle existential difficulties in a turbulent world. The current education systems fall terribly short of doing so, anywhere in the world.

No, I don’t blame the teachers. I blame the politicians and policy makers, the education planners, who have not understood what the basics of educations are. Our mothers and fathers, our grandparents should be called in to give advice – and the children, too.

Knowledge and skills are important and specific competences in the vocations and professions we train in. But we must not confuse compulsory and basic learning for all with job-training and advanced studies. I believe that we even breech the International Human Rights Convention when we force children through a competitive education system; many grow up feeling unhappy; they feel they are losers, and they don’t even learn the basic life skills, they get poor graders and have few life prospects. Even in Norway and Sweden, the world’s richest countries, a quarter of the pupils or so are relegated to be losers in the education system’s sorting machines, sent off to jobs that nobody wants, or put away to receive social security allowances or become substance abusers. That is not right!

This year, the World Teachers’ Day also draws attention to the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the International Declaration of Human Rights. We should consider if we do towards all and every school child what is right, yes, those who are in school, and also those who are out-of-school.

We should consider if not the future teacher should have an entirely different role than the facts-transmitters, sorting-machines and administrators they are a lot of the time today. We need teachers to the world who can teach us the basics of living and learning, yes, of peaceful coexistence. That is what the teacher of tomorrow should be. Then we could talk about real education for all – and real teachers for all, in schools and as well as in communities.


The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.