Letters & Opinion

World Teachers’ Day: Significance and Impact

Dr. Claudia J. Fevrier
By Dr. Claudia J. Fevrier

SIR William Arthur Lewis asserts, “The fundamental cure for poverty is not money but knowledge.” In this economic crisis, the following reactions are likely: “How can this be?” one may ask. Another may exclaim in shock, “That sounds crazy!” Yet, another may say, “What is that man talking about, he prefers to have knowledge than money?”

What exactly Arthur Lewis meant by that statement is open to interpretation. To gain a better understanding of his statement, Malik (2020) provides the following interpretation: “It is not money or wealth that uplifts and abolishes poverty but knowledge. Money is just a temporary relief that will soon vanish if you do not have the knowledge that is required to sustain yourself.”

Why does Lewis give knowledge prominence over money? Firstly, just as there are sources of money, there are sources of knowledge: authority, tenacity, rationalism, empiricism, science, and so on. Of relevance to this paper is the knowledge or information gained from authority. When we accept what a famous or respected person says to us, we are gaining knowledge via authority. Historically, authority figures have been a primary means of information, and the classroom teacher, to date, is one such example.

In viewing the importance of teachers’ knowledge for teaching, Graeme Aitken (n.d.), University of Auckland, posits that knowledge matters. Not only because its specialist nature accords status to the profession, for example, teaching, but because it enables better decision making which in turn brings greater advantage to those it serves. Every school accords high priority to the quality of teaching, thus, part of the justification of what to teach (content) rests in the teacher’s knowledge of the subject matter or content area, for example, English (or English language arts), mathematics, and the like.

Schools ensure that teachers are accurate and confident in what they are teaching and are secure enough in their knowledge to be able to respond flexibly to students. This is not to suggest that the teacher needs to know everything, nor that they should position themselves as the communicator of all knowledge. The crux of the matter is that students gain much of their knowledge from teachers and, therefore, the teachers’ curiosity for the content needs to be such that they are eager to acquire knowledge in order to get themselves more than one page ahead and, thus, be a resource and inspiration for student learning.

How do students benefit from the knowledge teachers impart to them? There is a common view, “It takes money to make money,” which Arthur Lewis’ quote does not readily support. On the contrary, Sir Arthur Lewis, the Saint Lucian economist who was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 1979, is of the opinion that knowledge is the source of income. Thus, “The fundamental cure for poverty is not money but knowledge.” Cash Keen (2019) underscores Lewis’ view: “Nothing else on the planet comes close to knowledge in its capacity to make money. The idea that it takes money to make money is false and restrictive. It is a poor person’s way of thinking.” Cash Keen employs the aphorism, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” to explain that the rich get richer because of their financial knowledge (financial literacy), while the situation regarding the poor is compounded by the lack of knowledge.

A case in point: Elon Musk’s biography reveals that he is the world’s wealthiest person. Musk earned his wealth through his increased knowledge (and ultimately, application of it) of physics/technology and economics at university. Without the pivotal role of teachers in imparting knowledge to students, one can safely say that Elon Musk would not have possessed the knowledge capacity to amass a fortune. Further, in terms of the volume of profession, what about the editor, the lawyer, the teacher, the nurse, the farmer, the doctor, the policeman…? How did they reach their professional destination? The ongoing discussion shows lucidly that behind every profession, there is a teacher. Teachers are, doubtless, of great significance for student success or achievement. Interestingly, they have a lifelong impact on their students.

Primarily, it is within this context of great significance and lifelong impact that in the year 1994, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed October 5 as “World Teachers’ Day.” According to UNESCO, World Teachers’ Day is held annually on that day to celebrate all teachers, present and past, around the globe. In observance of World Teachers’ Day this year (Wednesday, October 5, 2022), a joint message by UNESCO and other international organizations (ILO, UNICEF, and EI) was delivered (in addition to the three-day celebration at the UNESCO Headquarters). The message sheds light on the indispensable role of teachers in society.

“Today, on World Teachers’ Day, we celebrate the critical role of teachers in transforming learners’ potential by ensuring they have the tools they need to take responsibility for themselves, for others and for the planet. We call on countries to ensure that teachers are trusted and recognized as knowledge producers, reflective practitioners, and policy partners.”

Countries throughout the globe responded to the call to ensure that their teachers are trusted and recognized as knowledge producers, reflective practitioners, and policy partners. People across the world took a moment to thank teachers for their contribution and commitment in a number of ways.

The Saint Lucian Ministry of Education was among those organizations which celebrated their annual National Teachers’ Day,” affectionately known as “Teacher Appreciation Day” (or week). The week of October 3, 2022, in particular, Wednesday, October 5, 2022, the Minister of Education, Hon. Shawn Edward, and significant others took a moment and dramatically displayed their alma mater uniforms. Individuals proudly represented their schools, as their faces wore a reminiscent smile. On the professional level, the minister, in his message, asserted: “Today, let us salute our teachers because they will forever remain indispensable in the whole scheme of national development.”

To conclude, the minister saluting teachers as indispensable in the whole scheme of national development is apt. Teachers have, indeed, earned a reputation for reliability and professionalism in Saint Lucia and globally because their influence extends beyond the classroom well into the future.

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