Remarks by Julianna Lindsey, UNICEF Representative in Rwanda, for World Teacher's Day

As prepared for delivery

05 October 2020

KIGALI, 5 October 2020 – Honourable Minister; Honourable Ministers of State; Permanent Secretary; government representatives; development partners and civil society; and most importantly, teachers: Mwiriwe! 

It is my pleasure to join you on World Teacher’s Day as we celebrate Rwanda’s passionate and dedicated educators who help ensure a bright future for every child.

World Teacher’s Day was established to recognise the 1966 signing of the UNESCO and ILO Recommendation on the Status of Teachers. Each year, we use this opportunity to recognise and appreciate teachers around the world.  This year, we celebrate World Teacher’s Day under the theme: “Teachers: Leading in crisis; reimagining the future.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has especially underscored the importance of teachers. Not only as the UNICEF Representative, but as a parent, I am grateful and impressed by the extra effort and dedication teachers have invested to keep children learning during school closures – to plan, deliver, and assess learning without the structure of a formal school day. 

I also know that teachers are very eager to get back in the classroom.  They get their energy from the children, from their funny remarks, and from their unique perspective on the world.  Teachers didn’t join this occupation to sit at home or to see children on screens.  They become teachers because they love kids and because they are committed to Rwanda’s future, which starts with an educated population.

So today, I would like to thank all teachers in Rwanda who have provided leadership during these challenging times. Teachers have worked tirelessly with UNICEF, Rwanda Education Board and Rwanda Broadcasting Agency to design and deliver remote learning opportunities.

We recognise the teachers who have supported their schools to prepare for reopening, and to help ensure the health and well-being of their students.

We commend the efforts of teachers who have gone the extra mile and reached out to families to provide tutoring and extra support. 

We celebrate the teachers who refuse to leave any child behind, working with partners and communities to ensure children with disabilities could continue learning during school closures.

We recognise the teachers who have provided online lessons and support. 

And to parents and community members working alongside teachers – thank you! We know you are often juggling other commitments while still supporting learning at home. Ongoing education during COVID-19 could not have been possible without you.

And now we shift our focus to prepare for school reopening. In this endeavour, teachers have never been more essential. We are counting on their support to ensure that every child re-enrols in classes, even those who were out of school before COVID 19.

As we embark on this journey together, I would like to re-affirm the support of development partners, on whose behalf I speak today. We commit to supporting teachers and the entire education sector to ensure educators have the necessary skills and support to realise these goals. 

I would also like to take this opportunity to commend the teachers who have been training and building their skills to ensure that when schools reopen, they are ready to deliver engaging and innovative lessons in this new education environment. We will continue to support you through additional training and capacity development.

On behalf of development partners, I would also like to acknowledge and appreciate the work of the Government of Rwanda to recruit more than 20,000 new teachers, which will help reduce class sizes and ultimately improve the quality of education. 

To these new teachers, you will never have a more important responsibility than the one you are about to accept.  You have the opportunity to shape lives, to transform education, and leave a lasting impact on the country.  All the skills training, the digitalization of the economy, the industrial plans – none of that can happen without a workforce that has a basic education – so you are the very first and most important step in Rwanda’s transformation agenda.

I’ll give you a small example from my own family.  My father grew up in pretty poor rural circumstances.  His parents didn’t own their own land; they moved from place to place looking for work, and my dad went to a different school every single year.  After classes, he worked in the field, picking cotton and pulling tobacco.  His parents had a basic education and his dad had learned metalworking in a TVET programme; university was beyond their experience or frame of reference. 

So, it was a teacher in his secondary school who saw his potential and really encouraged him to think beyond his family’s horizons.  To make a long story short – my dad ended up getting a PhD and becoming a university professor – and this was all because a teacher had confidence in him and helped him navigate the strange new world of higher education.

So, let me ask you to take a moment sometime today to remember the role that a teacher has had in your life.  It could be a teacher in primary, secondary school or even later.  Let’s truly celebrate teachers today.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to wish everyone again a wonderful World Teacher’s Day. We know you are eager to return to school and we can’t wait to see you and the children back in school.

Thank you. Murakoze cyane.

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