Teachers are the life force of civilisation

Good teachers and civilisation—stability and progress—go together.

In Summary
  • They act as role models, caregivers, mentors and guides to students.
  • They also literally protect learners from trouble to themselves and from other people.
A teacher in class.
A teacher in class.
Image: FILE

Last week Kenya joined the rest of the world in marking International Teachers Day, on October 5.

Although established in 1994, to commemorate the signing of the 1966 Unesco/ILO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers, countries like Argentina and India celebrate the day in honour of their outstanding teachers. They include Domingo Faustino Sarmiento of Argentina and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan of India whose birthday was September 5.

Sarmiento was the seventh president of Argentina while Radhakrishnan was the second president of India. Both were great teachers in their own right and, beyond teaching, did much to influence education policy in their respective countries.


The day provides an opportunity for Unesco and Education International to help the world to better understand teachers and the role they play in the development of students and society.

The outbreak of Covid-19 and the closures of school brought home the indispensable role teachers play in the growth and development of children. Teachers play vital roles in the lives of students in their classrooms and beyond.

What society knows about teachers is that they are the ones who educate students placed in their care. What they probably don’t know is that teachers also play a much bigger, and perhaps more decisive, role in the lives of children beyond tutoring them.

They act as role models, caregivers, mentors and guides to students. Many act as surrogate fathers and mothers to some of these children.  The physical separation of teachers from students that Covid-19 occasioned, brought home to many parents and guardians some truths: that teachers just don’t teach. They also protect students from so many distractions and dangers: that the school, which is controlled by the teachers, is a kind of sanctuary to children.

The extended closure of schools exposed learners to child abuse—violence, sexual predators, child labour and substance abuse.

Teachers play so many roles in the lives of children. They facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and skills that children need to grow wholesomely and be useful to themselves and to society when they come of age.

They also literally protect learners from trouble to themselves and from other people. They are role models to the children in the sense that learners take cues from them regarding the kind of behaviour and career aspirations they should embrace, going forward.


Education then, is nothing but the multiple impacts teachers, in their individual capacity, have on learners.

A school is never complete without the teacher. Just like society cannot envisage a hospital without doctors or nurses, it is impossible to think about education, about schooling, without teachers.

In the final analysis, the biographies of great men and women are nothing but a study of the influences great teachers had on the lives of these people. The men and women who shape society and its institutions simply carry out the injunctions of the teachers who taught in the classrooms and lecture halls and beyond through force of example and philosophy of life of the teachers in question.

Teachers are, indeed, the life force of civilisation. Good teachers and civilisation—stability and progress—go together.