BCTF Online Museum

Teachers have rights — 50th anniversary of the ILO/UNESCO definition of the Status of Teachers

In Canada, it is hardly news that teachers have rights. It wasn't always so, nor is it the case in every country even today.

The last half of the twentieth century was a period of definition of global rights that were supposed to be recognized by all countries. The cornerstone, of course, was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.  Many others have followed—including the rights of children, and most recently, the rights of indigenous peoples.

By 1966, the rights of teachers were codified in the ILO/UNESCO statement on the Status of Teachers.  It covers a wide range of areas—from teacher education, in-service programs and conditions for teaching and learning to salaries and tenure.

While it is widely known that Canadian John Humphrey played a key role in the Human Rights declaration, it is less known that a Canadian was a lead drafter of the declaration on the Status of Teachers. The BC Teachers' Federation gave an extended leave to its General Secretary, Charlie Ovans, to be seconded to the International Labour Organization to develop the statement on the Status of Teachers.

The 50th Anniversary of the declaration was celebrated by Education International (EI), along with the heads of UNESCO and the ILO at a ceremony at the United Nations headquarters in New York City in September 2016.

The EI report on the event pointed out that “The Recommendations create no divisions between 'trade union' questions and 'professional' ones. Both are related to the status of teachers, depend on teachers having recognition and representation, and largely determine the quality of learning.”

The section on “Professional freedom” is as relevant today as in 1966 as Ovan's colleagues in the BC Teachers' Federation participate in revision of the entire curriculum in British Columbia, and exercise their autonomy in the pedagogy that brings that curriculum to life.

This is the ILO/UNESCO statement on “Professional freedom”:

61. The teaching profession should enjoy academic freedom in the discharge of professional duties. Since teachers are particularly qualified to judge the teaching aids and methods most suitable for their pupils, they should be given the essential role in the choice and the adaptation of teaching material, the selection of textbooks and the application of teaching methods, within the framework of approved programmes, and with the assistance of the educational authorities. 

62. Teachers and their organizations should participate in the development of new courses, textbooks and teaching aids.

The full ILO/UNESCO statement can be found at http://bit.ly/2cO90mV