An Interview with Fred van Leeuwen: World Teacher Day

Oct 3, 2013 by

Fred van Leeuwen

1) I understand that on the eve of World Teacher Day, you are going to be having meetings and conferences in Paris and in New York City at the United Nations. How did all this come about?

“World organisations led by the United Nations and including Education International are redoubling our efforts to provide universal access to primary school by 2015. That’s the global goal established by the U.N. There’s been tremendous progress, but we still have some 60 million children not in school. Even as we continue work toward 2015, we need to look beyond, to continue to promote education as a key factor in development worldwide. As teachers, we know that access to schooling is vital. But we also know access is not sufficient. Students must have access to a quality education. That means quality teachers and quality tools and environments for teaching and learning. We are mobilising so that no one has any illusion about the role of teachers in the debates ahead. No one will be advocating stronger for quality education than the teachers of the world. This is why we will be leading our one-year initiative, Unite for Quality Education, to be launched jointly in Paris, France, and New York, USA, on 4 October.”

2) Who will be some of the main people attending?

Many high profile education personalities will be attending the joint New York/Paris launch of Education International’s Unite for Quality Education Initiative.

Will be attending the launch in New York:

In New York, USA, the following high profile education personalities will be attending:

  • Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy
  • Vibeke Jensen, Director, Global Education First Initiative (GEFI)

  • Susan Hopgood, President, EI

  • Kishore Singh, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, OHCHR

  • Josephine Bourne, Associate Director for Education (UNICEF)

  • Rasheda Choudhury, Board Member, Global Campaign for Education (GCE)

  • Alice Albright, CEO, Global Partnership for Education (GPE)

  • Albert Kwame Akyeampong, Senior Policy Advisor, ED/GMR

  • Hugo Yasky, Chair, EI Latin American Regional Committee;

  • Yasunaga Okamoto, General Secretary, JTU/Japan

  • Dennis Van Roekel, President, NEA

  • Randi Weingarten, President, AFT/USA
  • Sandra Spekreijse, NZEI Te Riu Roa/New Zealand

  • Marvin Andall, President, CUT

Key education people to be present in Paris, France, are:

  • HRH Princess Firyal of Jordan, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador

  • Irina Bokova, Director-General, UNESCO

  • Fred van Leeuwen, General Secretary, EI

  • Haldis Holst, Deputy General Secretary, EI

  • Pauline Rose, Director, EFA Global Monitoring Report

  • Andreas Schleicher, Deputy Director for Education and Skills, OECD

  • Oliver Liang, Education Sector Specialist, ILO

  • Mr Qian Tang, Assistant Director-General for Education, UNESCO

  • Gretchen Kalonji, Assistant Director-General for Science, UNESCO

  • David Atchoarena, Director, Division for Teacher Development and Higher Education, UNESCO

  • Soo Hyang Choi, Director, Division of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development, UNESCO

  • Hugues Moussy, Senior Education Specialist, GPE

  • Utak Chung, Director, Asia-Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding, APCEIU

  • Edem Adubra, Chief of Section, Secretariat of the International Task Force on Teachers for EFA

  • Monique Fouilhoux, Chair, GCE Board

  • Pauline Greaves, Head of Education, Commonwealth Secretariat

  • Hugh Mclean, OSF

  • Ed Dorell, Times Educational Supplement

  • Charles Mwaniki Peace Education Officer, Coordinator of the TRA in Kenya, Ministry of Education (Kenya)

  • Assibi Napoe, Chief Regional Coordinator, EI Africa

  • Shashi Bala Singh, Chief Regional Coordinator, EI Asia-Pacific

  • Bahia Baalbaki, Head of Educational Affairs Committee in Public Secondary Schools’ Teachers in Lebanon (LPESPL)

  • Christine Blower, General Secretary, NUT/UK

  • Marième Sakho-Dansokho, General Secretary, SYPROS/Senegal

  • Roberto Franklin de Leão, President, CNTE/Brazil

3) What are some of the topics to be addressed?

Among the many topics to be addressed are the following: Teacher professionalism; teacher decent living and working conditions; quality learning and teaching environment for teachers and students; quality learning and teaching tools; teacher and school’s evaluation; adequate financial resource given to public education by public authorities; education remaining a high in the post-2015 development agenda.”

4) How will the Internet be impacting education in the next 10 years?

“The world’s teachers want to use the best tools and resources available to help students acquire the skills to succeed in a demanding and competitive world economy. Technology is critical. As teachers, we have always been ‘open source;’ borrowing, sharing, and collaborating on teaching and learning tools and materials. Teachers research and develop curriculum and teaching methods to teach their students more effectively and improve their own skills. It’s the essence of teaching and it’s part of our definition of a quality education; skilled professional teachers using the best tools and materials for their students. Research shows that student learning is most successful when online tools are combined with face-to-face instruction in strategies of blended learning.

We want to put these powerful tools to work in the hands of every professional educator in order to ensure that all students succeed. In order to do that we are working with organisations like the Global Business Council to develop partnerships for using technology. We’re very excited by the potential for these partnerships.”

5) I read with horror about some of the violence in certain parts of the world. How can a quality education be guaranteed to the children in these strife ridden parts of the world?

EI promotes the view that schools must be safe and secure to ensure the best possible situation for teaching and learning, and that education should advance human rights principles by promoting inclusiveness, diversity and understanding.

Since the adoption of the EI recommendation on ‘Education under Attack and Persecuted Teachers’ and the adoption of the EI Declaration ‘Schools Shall Be Safe Sanctuaries’, EI has engaged in advocacy initiatives to urge the international community to act to prevent violations of the right to education, to ensure the safety and security of learners, teachers, education personnel and academics everywhere and to strengthen international law and to end impunity.

Education is recognised as a fundamental right no matter what the circumstances, and so the utmost must be done to protect schools and children’s right to education. The facts are different, the regions are diverse but the bottom line remains: increasingly in conflict countries and fragile States, teachers and students are putting their lives at risk simply by turning up for lessons – because rebels, armed forces and repressive regimes consider schools, universities, students and teachers as legitimate targets.

6) It seems that teachers are continually faced with children who have an increasing number of special needs and exceptionalities. Will this be addressed?

For EI, quality and equal access to education are crucial. In its Policy Paper on education: Building the Future through Quality Education adopted in 2011, EI underlines that ‘it is the responsibility of public authorities to ensure that all citizens have access to high quality education appropriate to their needs. Supported by the Universal Declaration on Human Right and a series of international, multi-lateral instruments, EI maintains that all barriers to education must be removed in order to make it accessible for all persons, regardless of their gender, background or personal characteristics. EI therefore promotes the concept of equal opportunity and access to all levels of education. No-one should be disadvantaged because of perceived differences, including those based upon gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, faith, cultural or economic background, or personal characteristics. People with disabilities should be assisted to achieve their maximum potential.’

Inclusive education also means that all students should be educated together, to the same high standards, in so far as possible in the same education institution, irrespective of their gender, faith, ethnic, cultural or economic background or physical or intellectual capacities. However, EI recognises that in order to ensure the best opportunities for some students to develop to their maximum level, separate facilities and services may need to be provided. It is particularly important that a strong relationship exists between specialist and mainstream facilities which enables the sharing of pedagogic knowledge and skills and promotes institutional collaboration. The educational experience of students should instil in them concepts of equality, tolerance and respect for diversity.

Pre-service and in-service teacher education and training are also central to equipping teachers with the knowledge and skills to provide appropriate services for students from different backgrounds, with different capabilities and orientations.”

7) Can you tell us about the Global Year of Action?

“No organisations have fought as hard as those representing teachers for the resources and tools and proper environments for teaching and learning and to professionalise the teaching corps. To change the reality for millions of students not in school or not in learning situations, we must have impact on perceptions around the world. In this Unite for Quality Education campaign, we will bring together the voices of those of us who know that a better quality education is a key to a better world. Our aim is to create awareness among governments, inter-governmental agencies and society generally that quality education for all is a central part of any global post-2015 development strategy.

We will highlight successful educational practices and activities and seek support for making them available to all. We will emphasize the role of professional teachers and the need to support them with modern teaching and learning tools and quality learning environments. And we will seek the support of other partner organizations committed to the quality education for all. It’s an ambitious plan, but our members are energised.”

8) What can you tell us about ‘A Day in the Life of a Teacher’?

EI’s documentary ‘A day in a life’ sheds light on what teachers’ everyday lives look like around the world, and highlight similarities and differences, as well as challenges faced by teachers today. The film looks at the human beings behind the profession, as well as the role of teachers in the community, while paying attention to the consequences of current work environments, policies and reforms. It tells the story of teachers in countries around the world, focusing on key issues including class sizes, teacher training, school curricula, education in rural areas and information and communication technology in education. Some of the countries featured are India, Brazil, Togo and Indonesia.

The idea is showing what actually takes place in classrooms around the world, so that the notion of what is and is not a quality education emerges naturally, from the perspective of the teacher and the very act of teaching. The documentary will emphasise the three pillars of quality education: Quality teaching, quality tools and learning, and quality environments for teaching and learning. It will also highlight the importance of education as a human right and the crucial role of the State in guaranteeing it.

The documentary ‘A day in a life’ will be premiered on 5 October 2014.”

9) Do you have a web site where interested others can get more information?

Yes, you will find more information about the Unite for Quality Education campaign on our hub,

Valuable and useful resources can also be found on the Education in Crisis website, This website has a blog, as well as many articles and information on issues such as: achieving quality through action; Education for All, Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 agenda; privatisation of education; tax justice and education financing; and teachers’ rights and conditions.

And there is always the EI general website,

10) What have I neglected to ask?

I think an interesting question that needs to be addressed over and over again is: Why do individuals want to become teachers?

It can sometimes be a sort of ‘family tradition.’

But from my own experience, and having talked to so many educators worldwide, I can say with confidence that most of the times people become teachers because they truly believe they can make a difference.

They want to ensure a sound, bright and sustainable future for their communities by teaching and nurturing students’ young minds.

Teachers’ proudest moments come when they realise that they have passed on the taste to learn and think to their students, thus enabling future generations to fulfil their potential, become involved citizens and play an active role in the interest of their society.”

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