Today marks the United Nations World Teachers Day; with this year’s theme focusing on the freedom to teach and the empowerment of educators. Through echoing the 2015 themes, adhering to the adoption of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), today the empowerment of teachers is now understood as a matter of great importance. The significance of this year’s celebration must be appreciated, as 2017 commemorates the 20 year anniversary of 1997 UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel. This notable recommendation recognises the pedagogical competence, expertise and specific skillset embodied by higher education teachers; a position that is too often overlooked when considering the status of teachers.
Without venturing too deep into the diverse classifications and roles of those within the teaching profession, the concept of empowering teachers must be appreciated across the spectrum, verily recognising the intersectionality many teachers experience. From the challenges of staff shortage in the UK, to the overcrowding of classrooms and financial instability ravaging teachers and institutions in Africa, the obstacles faced are diverse, yet obtain a sense of universality. The pre-eminence of sustainable solutions to the consistent difficulties teachers face on a global scale cannot be understated.
The concept of universal education is one that is disseminated across all corners of the world, yet the individuals and institutions providing such skills and knowledge are strained, suffering from structural inconsistency, disparity and the central economic problem. When education is the key to alleviate poverty, ignorance and bigotry, we must ask ourselves why those individuals who provide the means to success are disenfranchised and denied circumstantial freedom and empowerment?
Both secular and religious teachers must be valued, for education does not end when the school bell rings or when Quran class is finished. The sheer significance of both secular and religious knowledge provides for a hybrid and inclusive society. Although the UK has leading educational provisions for secular education, the religious sector lags behind. The value, virtue, and voice of our religious leaders must be enhanced and appreciated in order to truly meet SDG 4: on education, specifically 4.c: recognising teachers as key to the achievement of inclusive and quality education.
When thinking of UN targets and goals, the UK is seldom perceived as a nation that is required to improve its provisions and services in order to meet these international agendas. In this context, however, SDG 4 truly is an all encompassing and inclusive goal that rightly requires the cooperation of all nations, regardless of political ability, economic development and social status. The imminent need for institutional, structural and communal recognition and representation of religious teachers must be met with real endeavour.
We, as a community, put great emphasis on the education and achievement of our children, yet we continue to devalue and disempower the very people that attempt to provide such strong education. Although this type of disenfranchisement rarely takes form through disrespect or contestations, we have the ability to truly transform both the perception and experience of our religious Scholars, Alimahs and Imams.
To achieve both legitimate and authentic freedom to teach and the empowerment of teachers, we must first look within our social structures and institutions, through an analytical and progressive lens. We must appreciate the obstacles our religious teachers face. We must recognise their value. We must hear their voice. For the future of our Islamic institutions and Islamic knowledge in the UK depends on the freedom and empowerment of our teachers.
Written by Munibah Qureshi