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Testing’s Damage, Economic Role Focus of World Teachers Day

By Cynthia McCabe

A foundering economy, damaging budget cuts, too little respect and autonomy, too much testing. Sound familiar? It should, even if it’s in South Africa or the United Kingdom. The concerns of United States educators are shared by their colleagues around the world and today those concerns are the focus of World Teachers’ Day.

Every October 5, Education International – the global union federation of which the National Education Association is a founding member – celebrates the profound, positive influence of teachers on students around the globe. But too often they are hampered by forces beyond their control, especially education funding.

That’s why this year’s World Teachers’ Day focuses on the need to invest in education to boost the global economy.

“In times of economic crisis, education can’t be seen as a cost to be cut,” said David Edwards, of NEA’s International Relations. “It needs to be seen as an investment. And investing in education means investing in teachers.”

Education International General Secretary Fred Van Leeuwen had tough words for those who would exploit the economic crisis to make such funding cuts.

“The right to education of a whole generation of children has been put at risk by those whose greed and irresponsibility created the crisis,” said van Leeuwen. “As teachers and trade unionists we intend to do our utmost to ensure their opportunities to learn are not jeopardised. But governments too must do their part by putting into place the policies and funding necessary to bridge the global teacher gap.”

It's not just an issue of money, either, Edwards said. Teachers also must have the autonomy to educate their students the best way possible, which doesn’t typically include punitive testing or testing as the only measure of a teacher’s effectiveness.

That’s a view shared by filmmaker Molly Blank, who explored the role of testing in South African high schools. In celebration of World Teachers’ Day, her film “Testing Hope” will be available online exclusively at today through Friday. The film follows high school students as they prepare for a test that could determine their future. Blank will also be answering questions from educators and others throughout the week here.

And in the United Kingdom today, members of the National Union of Teachers of England and Wales will be boycotting the testing in their schools. Such testing has “not only distorted the curriculum, undermined the professionalism of teachers, but also created a culture of division between our schools,” said the union’s national president Martin Reed. “Increasingly, teachers teach to the tests and children are moved away from a creative learning experience. We are committed to restoring professional trust and recognition for all our teachers.”

For educators in the United States, the frustrations of their UK and South African counterparts are all too close to home. “High-stakes testing has had negative consequences not only for the teachers but also for the students themselves,” Edwards said. “It’s an international phenomenon.”


In commemoration of World Teachers' Day, is hosting this exclusive online screening of Testing Hope: Grade 12 in the new South Africa. Comment here.


NEA Resources for World Teachers' Day

Official World Teachers' Day Web site