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Inaugural Asia-Pacific Plenary Meeting of UNESCO Shanghai Funds-in-Trust Project for Teacher Professionalisation

Inaugural Asia-Pacific Plenary Meeting of UNESCO Shanghai Funds-in-Trust Project for Teacher Professionalisation

19 May 2023, Bangkok – The inaugural Asia-Pacific Plenary Meeting of the UNESCO Shanghai Funds-in-Trust project, ‘Promoting the Professionalisation of Teaching in the Asia-Pacific and Africa through the Development and Operationalisation of National Teacher Competences and Standards Frameworks’, was held online on 18 May 2023.

Organised by the Teacher Programme of the UNESCO Multisectoral Regional Office in Bangkok (UNESCO Bangkok), the meeting brought together over 70 participants from 12 countries across different parts of the world. Representatives of the donor for the project, namely the Shanghai Municipal Government of China, UNESCO Bangkok, the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, UNESCO International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA), and related field offices of UNESCO also attended the meeting.

In his opening remarks, Mr Chen Hao, Deputy Director for the International Cooperation and Exchange Division, Shanghai Municipal Education Commission, re-affirmed on behalf of the donor a ‘strong willingness to support UNESCO initiatives and activities’ in the field of education where appropriate and feasible. He expressed appreciation of the work done by the UNESCO Bangkok project team and his hope for continued collaborations between UNESCO and the Teacher Education Centre in Shanghai, as well as other main stakeholders in teacher development.

Dr Carlos Vargas-Tamez, Chief of Section for Teacher Development at UNESCO Headquarters, and Head of the Secretariat of the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030, called the Shanghai Funds-in-Trust project ‘a flagship project of UNESCO that promotes teacher professionalisation and teacher quality’. He shared the view that teacher standards are a type of ‘social agreement’ on teachers’ knowledge, practice, and the relationship between learners, educators and the community. He also advocated for ‘recasting teaching as a collaborative profession’, which is highly important for transforming education. This means changing the role of teachers from curriculum executors to reflexive practitioners, producers of knowledge, and participants in educational decision-making.

Having originally conceived this project, Dr Wang Libing, Chief of Section for Educational Innovation and Skills Development (EISD), and also the Interim Acting Director of UNESCO Bangkok, emphasised the crucial role of teacher competences frameworks in ensuring the quality of the teaching profession. He called such professional frameworks the ‘upper stream and core part of teacher policy’ which guide and shape initial teacher education, recruitment and certification, as well as teachers’ continuing professional development, appraisal, and career progression.

As Dr Wang pointed out, most of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region are facing a shortage of qualified teachers, and a number of them have made political commitments towards strengthening teacher development, including in their National Statements for the Transforming Education Summit (TES) convened by the United Nations just last year. However, many of these same countries have yet to develop a comprehensive teacher competences framework at the national level. ‘Some of them are very interested in policy learning from other countries with existing experience, and some are in real need of technical advice and support from the leading international organisations in the field of education development, such as UNESCO’, said Dr Wang, ‘This project is to address such needs.’

Dr Wang went further to highlight the importance of designing and managing UN projects based on the Member States’ specific needs, including ensuring country ownership in national implementation, engaging key stakeholders, and conducting solid, evidence-based and policy- and practice-oriented research. All these are well reflected in the ways that the Teacher Programme of the UNESCO Bangkok Office has been managing the Shanghai Funds-in-Trust project.

Prof. Zhang Minxuan, Director of the UNESCO Teacher Education Centre in Shanghai, a key partner of the project, strongly agreed with UNESCO on the importance of cultivating and supporting qualified teachers, and he acknowledged this project and the plenary meeting as ‘important actions’ in this direction. He also echoed Dr Wang on the necessity of a needs-based approach, saying that to meet the new challenges and changes, including those brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the digital revolution and other technological developments, teachers need new knowledge, new skills, new competences and new attitudes towards their work.

After the opening session, Ms Natalie Hong, Senior Project Officer of the Teacher Programme in the EISD Section of UNESCO Bangkok, gave a comprehensive and updated overview of the project. Her presentation was followed by introductions of and a warm welcome extended to the national technical working groups from the project’s direct beneficiary countries. These working groups consist of teacher policy-makers, teacher educators, teachers of various subjects, and school leaders. Ms Hong additionally presented the key findings of the initial research conducted by the Teacher Programme team of UNESCO Bangkok. She then briefed the participants on the planned process to develop the UNESCO Guidelines on how to formulate and implement national teacher competences and standards frameworks. She also introduced the related studies and experts, as well as the immediate next steps to be taken after the meeting.

This China-funded UNESCO project contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 4, Target c, which aims to substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers by 2030, especially in the least-developed countries and the Small Island Developing States. More specifically, the project seeks to build the capacity of the participating countries for developing and operationalising national teacher competences and standards frameworks; improving the competences of teachers in the participating countries in line with the national frameworks through needs-based trainings; and promoting South-South dialogue and cooperation on teacher professionalisation.

This bi-regional project directly benefits six countries: four in Asia – Mongolia (East Asia), Sri Lanka (South Asia), Timor-Leste (Southeast Asia), and Uzbekistan (Central Asia) – and two in West Africa, namely, Sierra Leone and The Gambia. Many additional countries within and beyond Asia and Africa may become indirect beneficiaries, as the key deliverables from the project will be widely disseminated globally to all UNESCO Member States for reference purposes.

The Asian component of the project is managed by the Teacher Programme of UNESCO Bangkok, which developed the core of the whole project, while the African component is administered by IICBA.

See also:
Concept Note and Agenda