Celebrating International Teachers’ Day
During the Covid-19 pandemic, I have hugely valued the contribution of key workers in their roles keeping essential services operating. Teachers have played a significant part in this – when school buildings closed in March, they continued to deliver learning to pupils across Scotland in new and innovative ways. And when they re-opened in August, they showed leadership, resilience and creativity, providing new and re-purposed learning environments so that children and young people can continue to access education as we navigate this pandemic.
Of course this situation has not been unique to Scotland – these scenes have been replicated in schools across the world in 2020. So it seems particularly fitting this year, on UN World Teachers’ Day, that we recognise the contribution and hard work of our teaching profession. The pandemic has brought untold pressures on them, and parents and carers who have had experience of home schooling will now have a clearer understanding of the vital role which teachers play.
Of course when we look back, 2020 will not just be remembered for a global pandemic, but also for the Black Lives Matter movement, which has united people across the world to come together to eradicate racism. This has thrown a spotlight on many important issues, not least the underrepresentation of Black and Minority Ethnic teachers in schools.
The Scottish Government is committed to increasing the diversity of our teaching profession to reflect Scotland’s rich and increasingly diverse population. While numbers of Minority Ethnic teachers in schools are increasing, there is still much to be done and I am grateful to the work of Professor Rowena Arshad CBE and the working group she chairs for driving forward actions which will help us achieve this aim.
Recognising the talents and skills which Minority Ethnic teachers bring to our schools, it seems fitting to acknowledge and celebrate the life of Saroj Lal, who sadly died in March. Saroj was one of the first Asian teachers in Scotland, and the first at South Morningside Primary School where she began her career in August 1970. Saroj was born in Gujranwala – now in Pakistan – and spent her childhood in India. Her training as a schoolteacher, at Moray House was instrumental in preparing her for her later work in anti-racist education.
Latterly she became the Director of Lothian Racial Equality Council (now Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council) and she was also the first Asian woman in Scotland to be appointed as a Justice of the Peace. Saroj was a trailblazer in fighting for fairness for all, and in particular for disadvantaged and marginalised Minority Ethnic women. Professor Arshad paid tribute to Saroj on the 50th anniversary of her becoming a teacher: “Teachers in Scotland today are standing on the shoulders of a giant”.
You can find out more about Saroj’s pioneering work as a teacher and equality campaigner in this commemorative short film, made to mark her 50th anniversary in teaching, ‘Remembering Saroj Lal’.
Education Secretary John Swinney.