In December the Nobel Prize will be handed out to individuals who have distinguished themselves in a range of human endeavours. They will receive perhaps the finest recognition possible in their field and area of expertise. In Stockholm they will receive awards for scientific discovery that has, and will continue to have, a profound impact on new innovations and how we perceive the world for many years to come, and, in Oslo, where they will receive awards for the never-ending pursuit of, and engagement for, peace, tolerance, dialogue and enhanced humanity.
We, as teachers and the advocates for teachers, in all the countries from where this year’s award winners come, also feel proud of their achievements. Pride over the award winner’s success and the work that is recognised, but also pride over educational systems that have been able to nourish the dreams and potential of these extraordinary people and help them achieve their full potential.
Peter Charles Doherty, an Australian veterinary surgeon and researcher in the field of medicine who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with Rolf M. Zinkernagel in 1996, writes in a letter that EI affiliates are distributing to this year’s laureates: “[There is] something to note and to celebrate – something Nobel winners have basically in common that is regrettably lacking for far too many millions of children around the world today: The ability to learn from high quality teachers, to have the tools and resources to learn and a supportive environment in which to learn.”
The Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prize and the days on which it is handed out are days to put a focus not only on the achievements of the individuals but also on the quality education which helped them to achieve that success, and which they received in their own educational systems around the world. Every prize winner has very likely experienced the importance of a committed and professional teacher. They, like most of us in our schools, will have felt the joy of being challenged and stimulated, of being seen and recognized for the person that they were, and, of having their potential nourished and developed in their school in a way that enabled them to develop all of their talents to the full and to realize their creative potential.
As teachers we wish to give this opportunity to every young person, to turn every child into a Noble Prize winner in their own life. This is why so many of us, over 30 million teachers affiliated to Education International (EI) worldwide, have chosen to become teachers. This is also why EI since the adoption of the MDGs and the Dakar Education For All Goals has lobbied so intensively in the international community for full implementation of those goals by 2015. And this is why we never falter in our conviction that quality education is a human right and a public good, which provides the foundation for equity, economic growth and a prosperous society. This is a human right that we, as countries, societies, politicians, teachers and individuals, have an obligation to give willingly to future generations.
The global economic crisis
As the global economic crisis has strengthened and deepened its grip on many of the world’s economies our concern has grown equally in depth. As the mountain of debt rises ever higher over our heads, we, as teachers, have seen the prospect of giving every child this human right diminishing with each passing day. Ever more often we are faced with cutbacks, downsizing and further curtailment of resources in education.
Sometimes we, as teachers, are even accused of being the obstacle to further progress. Over the past ten years many teachers have been laid off and forced into other jobs due to the effects of the economic crisis. In their pursuit of downsizing and saving, economic ideologies have led politicians and policymakers to believe that teachers are only an expense. They assert that children, our students and our common future are an expense that can be subject to economic rationalization.
Tackling the challenges of the future
But we know that another path lies open. We are confident that with effective investment in education we can break loose from the negative economic, political and social spiral that we are struggling with in so many countries today. In this difficult moment lies also a tremendous opportunity. This is an opportunity which we must seize as the alternative is to allow our children to pay the price for the crisis. With such a strategy the significance of the discoveries rewarded in Stockholm and the importance of the humanity shown by the prize winner in Oslo will continue to flourish.
So as the Nobel Prize is handed out we, as teachers, are still ready to take on the challenge for the future. We are more than willing to do all the work that needs to be done to give every child the possibility to achieve his or her full potential. To teach and to teach again and again so that someday a man or woman, who is today a young school pupil, can travel to Stockholm or Oslo to receive their prize. Give us that possibility. Allow us work hard with all the dedication and professional skill we possess with good teacher training, the best teaching and learning tools and in safe and supportive teaching and learning environments. This is all we ask, and one day all that work and that investment in quality education will help to achieve a better world.