MALAYSIA has been celebrating Teachers Day every year for almost half a century. Considering that yesterday was the 46th time, it is safe to say we all have at least an idea of the significance of the day.
We can agree that it is a day to honour the contribution of teachers and for students and ex-students to show appreciation for their teachers.
But if we want a more precise explanation of what Teachers Day should mean, we can turn to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), which proclaimed Oct 5 as World Teachers Day in 1994.
(In Malaysia, May 16 is designated as Teachers Day because it was on this date in 1956 that the Federal Legislative Council of the Federation of Malaya endorsed the Razak Report, which outlined the policies on which our post-independence education system was built.)
According to Unesco, Teachers Day is a day “devoted to appreciating, assessing, and improving the educators of the world”.
“The real point is to provide a time to look at and address issues pertaining to teachers. Strangely one of the most central, vital professionals to society does not receive the respect it deserves in some parts of the world,” says the organisation.
Is Malaysia one of those places where teachers are undervalued?
It is hard to argue otherwise when one of the key objectives of the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 is to transform teaching into a profession of choice.
The aim, says the Education Ministry, is to elevate teaching into a “prestigious, elite profession that only recruits from the top 30% of graduates in the country”.
This is a tacit admission that many people do not see much appeal in being a teacher.
We are familiar with the factors that are often cited. Teaching does not pay particularly well and career prospects are limited. There is too much administrative work. Dealing with students and parents is stressful. The job is monotonous and unglamorous.
When a profession is seldom the first choice, many people end up in it by default and they are sometimes ill-suited for it. This impacts the quality of the profession, which in turn makes it even less attractive.
The Government has mapped out strategies to make teaching a vibrant, rewarding and prestigious profession. These include raising professional standards; improving support systems and working environments; enhancing career pathways and progression; and creating a “peer-led culture of professional excellence”.
There is one other thing that we, as a society, can do, and it is not that hard really. We ought to always be mindful of the critical role of teachers.
Our children are precious to us and we have no problems understanding the importance of education. And yet, we take teachers for granted, or worse still, we underestimate the worth of their service.
Let us heed this advice from Unesco: “Everyone can help by celebrating the profession, by generating awareness about teacher issues, by ensuring that teacher respect is part of the natural order of things.”