We need to start treating teachers as essential workers: WEF official

UAE minister tells World Government Summit that technology is not the answer to all the problems faced by the education sector


Nasreen Abdulla

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Sarah Al Amiri. — File photo
Sarah Al Amiri. — File photo

Published: Tue 14 Feb 2023, 8:37 PM

Last updated: Tue 14 Feb 2023, 10:24 PM

The world needs to start thinking of teachers as essential workers just like doctors, according to Saadia Zahidi, managing director of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Zahidi was speaking at a panel discussion on preparing and empowering the education workforce on Day 2 of the World Government Summit (WGS) in Dubai.

Accompanying her on the panel was Sarah Al Amiri, UAE’s Minister of State for Public Education and Advanced Technology, who highlighted that technology was not the answer to all the issues faced by the education sector.

“We need to continuously remember that technology is a tool,” she said. “When we discuss AI and its deployment into the education sector, we need to ask ourselves what are the needs today in every single classroom. As effective as online education was, we haven’t bridged the gap in education caused by over two years of online learning. The solutions to our problem could be technology or could not be technology,” the minister added.

Overburdening teachers

Teachers have been dealing with changes all their lives and now is the time to use tech to alleviate some of their burdens, according to Dr Sonia Ben Jaafar, CEO, Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education.

“Teachers are tasked with doing administrative tasks, facilitating personalised lesson plans and so many other things,” she said. “It is about giving them the space where they can be professionals. They should not feel like they have 50 kids and are trying to personalise the teaching for them but don’t have time.”

She said it was important to use AI to alleviate their tasks. “[It] gives them time to do their professional development and gives them the time to teach properly. They can teach the way they want when they have that time.”

Anna Molero, chief government officer at non-profit organisation Teach For All, agreed that teachers value professional development as much as a paycheck. “We have seen that during our interactions that teachers value pre-service training and peer to peer learning,” she said. “Recognition is important for teachers and so is professional development support.”

Create the best environment

According to Al Amiri, it was important to create the right kind of environment in the education sector to attract and retain the best talent. “How qualified you are, what tools you have and the breadth and space to perform your work are the three factors that encourage people into any profession,” she said. “We want teachers who cannot just impart knowledge but also teach our children who to utilise that knowledge.”

Ben Jaafar said that investing in teachers can pay off heavily. “Seven out of 10 children in low and middle income countries cannot read and understand a simple paragraph,” she said. “It is a divide between rich and poor countries. When you do the math, it is a $21 trillion loss of income for our economy that these children are not educated. Saying that teachers need to be valued — it is an argument for this $21 trillion.”

According to Molero, it is important to appeal to the sense of purpose of teachers. “We need to show our teachers how they can have a lifelong career in teaching and that is what our organisation does,” she said. “With our initiative Teach for Nigeria, we managed to get 79,000 teachers to stay in Nigeria and work with local communities rather than leave the country and look for employment elsewhere.”

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