Last week, I had the opportunity to be present at the Teachers’ Conference organized by the Anguilla Teachers Union to commemorate World Teachers Day 2012. As I looked at the mass of teachers filling the Rodney MacArthur Rey Auditorium, I was immediately struck by the sense of pride that seemed to permeate the room. There were speeches, renditions in song and poetry all celebrating the teaching profession. It was a time for thanksgiving, reflection, rejuvenation, validation and camaraderie for all teachers.
Teaching is the mother of all professions. It gives birth to all other professions. As such, when countries chart a path to true development – which focuses on development of human capital – they cannot ignore the role of teachers. Teachers build nations. There are many examples around the world that demonstrate that investment in education catapults the social, economic and political development of countries. Investment in education means not only building better schools or providing more access to technology, but also investing in the persons who are at the core of the education system: teachers.
Teachers must have the skills and expertise necessary to impart knowledge, promote virtues and develop reasoning skills. During the time in which they are in contact with our nation’s children, they function as parents, friends, confidantes, doctors, lawyers, counselors, judges and much more. Their importance in shaping society, by shaping the minds and characters of our children, is second only to that of parents. With that in mind, isn’t it a matter of simple logic that if we want to improve our society we ought to pay more attention to the needs of our teachers?
It is often said that you can tell a man’s priorities by what he spends his time and money on. How much of our country’s budget is spent on providing training and professional development opportunities for our teachers? How much is spent on improving working conditions for teachers and providing the support they need? Are teachers a priority? Is education a priority? Is true development (ie development that focuses on the intellectual advancement of our people) a priority? How many debates in the House of Assembly have focused on these matters? How many budget speeches reflect these priorities?
These are the questions we must ask ourselves if we are serious about Anguilla’s development. The lesson we should all have learnt from various crises, both natural and economic, that have struck Anguilla is that development which focuses solely on infrastructural advancement – better roads, homes, utilities, more hotels – is fleeting. It creates the illusion of prosperity which can vanish in what seems to be the blink of an eye. With these experiences, I believe we must commit as a nation to shifting our developmental focus to intellectual development. We should invest and encourage investment in our people, thereby ensuring that they have the capacity to contribute to, and benefit from, all the other forms of development. In my view, the first investment must be in the foundation – our teaching force.
Our society must foster a new respect for the teaching profession as one on which our future as a nation rests. The fact that our Messiah was called “Teacher” must signal to us, and to all teachers, the high calling of the profession. In our capacity as parents, business organizations, community partners, political leaders etc, we must demonstrate our support for the work of teachers. Likewise, teachers must by their actions uphold the tenets of the profession and demonstrate their commitment to our children and to the awesome task of shaping our society.
We rally for many causes nowadays, some of which are often individualistic and self-promoting. There seems to be little we agree on as a nation, except our love for Anguilla. Let that love guide us to a unified commitment to develop Anguilla by investing in our people. Let’s start with teachers.