'Why shouldn't teachers on the frontline decide the new normal as schools reopen?'

Host of global teaching conference says let those dealing with post Covid-19 issues in education set the pace

epa08415272 Children do gymnastic exercise in Phuc Dien elementary school Hanoi, Vietnam, 11 May 2020. Young children from kindergarten and elementary school across the country have returned to school after a three-month closure due to the COVID-19 disease pandemic.  EPA/LUONG THAI LINH
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More than 50,000 teachers from 67 countries will come together on Saturday for a free online global teaching convention. Here, the host of the T4 Conference, Vikas Pota, answers questions about the event.

Will T4 be the largest teaching conference ever staged?

From all my experiences, the interest we are seeing and the number of registrations coming through on our online system tell me that many tens of thousands of teachers are participating. To give you an example, entire education systems, such as from Ghana, the Philippines, the UAE, and several others are mobilising efforts to encourage their teachers to participate. I've never seen that before, and I know that the impact will be much wider as a result. This is going to be a major moment this year for teachers.

What is the point of bringing teachers together from around the world?

For the first time in recent history, at least in my experience, we have a common phenomenon that has impacted the way we all live and work. This applies equally to education, especially with school closures. Solutions from one part of the world are being trialled in another and that allows us to have a global event.

How are stories and experiences from developing countries relevant to those teachers’ counterparts globally?

Vikas Pota, Chief Executive, Varkey Foundation, United Kingdom at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2015 in Cape Town. Copyright by World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell

A teacher from Nigeria can have an impact in the Netherlands - that's what makes bringing teachers together an important thing to do. We need to get through this together and in solidarity with each other. If you take issues of equity, many countries have experienced the same problems. Whether that's about school meals for the vulnerable, issues connected to technology or even how children with special and additional needs are being thought of.

What do you think will be the highlight of the conference?

I am looking forward to hearing the many incredible teachers who are speaking at the event. It is they who are leading the thinking and practice in the areas of interest. Of course, having Malala's father, Zainuddin Yousafzai, is equally special for a different reason as he is someone I have admired for a long time for his advocacy and promotion of girls’ education.

The pandemic has changed perceptions about the role of nurses and social care workers in the health system. What sort of light has it shone on the place of teachers in education?

As someone who has led the charge on issues connected to teacher status through initiatives like the Global Teacher Prize, I do believe there's a newfound appreciation for teachers and an acknowledgement that it is a challenging role.

Why was the rapper, actor and entrepreneur Banky W included in the schedule, and what does he plan to talk about? 

Aside from being a huge rapper and singer in Africa, what people need to know about Banky is that he's incredibly passionate about teachers and education. Through his own endeavours he has funded and supported many teacher causes and also serves on the advisory board of Teach for Nigeria. Having him participate also increases the visibility of the cause and his reach on social media will really help to underscore “why teachers matter”, which is what he is speaking about.

How did T4 come about?

As the global pandemic took a grip on our lives in February, a group of my friends started to consider the many aspects connected to the shutting down of entire public education systems. The Zoom calls provided a safe space for discussion about such things as homeschooling, technology, the growing inequity and whether this crisis presented opportunities for wider reforms.

Why shouldn’t teachers set the precedent? After all, they’re at the front line dealing on a daily basis with such difficult issues. Let them set the pace.

Which of the T4 themes - teacher wellbeing, teacher leadership, teacher technology and teacher collaboration - is most important?

With teachers, we thought of these four themes, which are intertwined and very difficult to separate. However, I would like to point out that the subject of teacher wellbeing gets ignored most of the time, but is critical. That's why I'm pleased to provide a platform to this aspect particularly.

What about the children who will not have the opportunity to benefit from the enhanced educational outcomes that this T4 Conference aims to deliver? 

Our chronic underinvestment in the education sector globally is for all to see. This has created much anxiety and stress for pupils, teachers and society at large. Access to a quality education remains an issue for many. Technology has a role to play in widening access, which we will look at in the conference. However, the new normal doesn't necessarily only include technology. We are looking at what leadership, collaboration and wellbeing will come to mean in the not-too-distant future, all of which have a huge bearing on learning outcomes, too.

Vikas Pota is the former chief executive of the Varkey Foundation, a global charity that focuses on improving standards of education for underprivileged children, and set up the annual $1 million Global Teacher Prize in 2015.