As societies become more complex and highly developed, greater demand is made on education to fulfil personal, professional and national development needs. On the one hand, with the growth in ICT, globalization and importance of innovation, in addition to providing knowledge, education institutions must be future oriented, impart ICT, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, information management, and job relevant skills and prepare students to be able to respond creatively to the challenges of rapid changes. On the other hand, despite material growth, with societies becoming increasing more divided, education is also expected to play a role in creating social harmony and narrowing social divisions, by inculcating in young people tolerance, understanding, peace, a caring spirit for the underprivileged and those with special needs, and respect for diversity. As the world has become a more dangerous place with increase in terrorism, violence, conventional and cyber crimes, drug abuse, drug trafficking and human trafficking, education must also provide young people with information of the kind of dangers they face and knowledge of how to protect themselves. In addition, as access to education widens and education spreads to all corners of a country, education needs also to be able to cater to the differing intellectual, emotional, physical and social needs of a diverse student population. Consequently, all these fresh responsibilities that education of the 21st century has to bear have greatly increased the duties of the 21st century teachers.
Today, due to the multifaceted requirements, it is not enough for teachers to just have the traditional knowledge of subject matter, methodology, and child psychology, and have affection for children and an enormous amount of patience. Schools of the 21st century in both developed and developing countries demand that teachers must be ICT literate to help themselves and their students learn better. They need to possess a variety of teaching techniques to cater to students with different needs and backgrounds. They must be able to teach students to communicate effectively and to collaborate with others. They must have the ability to develop students thinking and life skills, so that they can solve daily as well as work related problems. They must be innovative themselves to nurture innovation in their students. They must train students to notice the commonalties and appreciate the differences among the members of their community and those from other communities, and understand that in this world, their well being is interrelated with the well being of others, including that of their environment. This is a formidable task for any human being. Some who entered the teaching profession find the work too demanding and leave; some fall prey to temptations and exploit their positions to become rich. Fortunately, however, the vast majority of dedicated teachers rise up to the challenges and try to fulfil as many of the responsibilities as they can, despite having to work in difficult circumstances, far from their families and homes. They continue to render their services till retirement age not giving much thought on whether their work is appreciated, or whether they will get promotion, or be able to live a comfortable life after retirement.
The world has celebrated World Teachers’ Day in various forms since 1994 and each year a different theme is chosen with the aims of highlighting the important role that teachers play in society and promoting appreciation for the work of millions of teachers all over the world in nurturing generations of students to reach their full potential. The theme of this year’s World Teachers’ Day is Valuing Teachers, Improving their Status which are often forgotten in this world which is more interested in technological development and achievements and less interested in the daily efforts exerted by human beings.
How are we in Myanmar showing our appreciation to the 390,092 Myanmar teachers consisting of 74,195 male teachers and 315,897 female teachers, 196,192 who are in the urban areas teaching 39,69788 students between the ages of 5 and 19 and 193,900 who are in the rural areas teaching 10,583640 students between the ages of 5 and 19? (Calculations are based on figures provided in 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census.) Myanmar people continue to follow the tradition of valuing education upheld since ancient times, as they regard it as not only developing knowledge but also good morals. In the same way, they also continue to show great respect to teachers and accord them the same status as the Lord Buddha, His teachings, the Sangha and one’s parents. Teachers are traditionally seen as undertaking the duties of protecting their pupils from harm, giving guidance, providing knowledge and skills, and recommending their students to appropriate persons. In return, since the days when all children attended monastic schools, students are expected to be active participants in the class, abide by the teachers’ guidance, learn what they are taught, treat their teachers warmly, and take care of their teachers’ needs. Many in Myanmar, especially women, have been drawn to the profession, not because of the salary, since teachers have always been poorly paid, but because of the high regards shown to teachers by society, the opportunity to develop the minds of young people, the tranquil nature of the work and the honest way of earning a living.
There is no doubt that much needs to be done to improve the status of teachers in developing countries like Myanmar. However, an initial few steps should make them quite happy. Firstly, governments must try to improve teachers’ social standard by increasing their salary to match it with the amount of time, effort and preparations they have to put in to educate our children, and providing them with decent accommodation close to the schools where they work, especially for those living in less developed areas where transportation is difficulty, housing is poor and facilities are limited. Secondly, a variety of awards should be introduced to honour distinguished teachers so that their achievements and hard work will be made well known in their respective community that may not know how hard teachers have to work. Thirdly, teachers should be empowered by allowing them a role in the management of their schools and what and how students are taught. Moreover, promotions and transfers should be merit based such as, by giving priority to teachers who are outstanding and who have worked for a certain numbers of years in remote regions. Similarly, more training institutions should be opened to reduce the backlog of teachers who wish to undertake professional development through further studies and to improve their promotion prospects. Measures should also be taken to appoint more teachers in rural areas so that student teacher ratio will be as close to that of in urban areas thereby reducing the workload of teachers and enabling teachers to improve their quality by giving them more time for lesson preparation and professional development. Finally, all schools should be provided with the required facilities and teaching aids to improve the working conditions of teachers.
There is no doubt that we need to think, and think creatively, in seeking ways and means to keep teachers happy and satisfied, as happy teachers will mean more effective and dynamic teachers and more effective, efficient and dynamic teachers will mean a better learning environment for all our children, whether in rural or urban areas, where they can seek the knowledge, skills and competencies demanded by 21st century.