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23 Jan 2017

Do the SDGs Matter? A Teacher’s View By Desmond Bermingham

By Desmond Bermingham, Varkey Foundation, London.


NORRAG NEWS 54 on “Education, Training and Agenda 2030: What Progress One Year On?” in now online.

While the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) may be important for global policy makers, the real change makers are the teachers in the classroom. Finding new ways to train and motivate these teachers will be key to reaching SDG4 in all developing countries.

One of my most enjoyable tasks since joining the Varkey Foundation earlier this year was to spend a day with the Instructional Leadership training programme for senior teachers and school leaders in Kiyunga- Mukono District, a two hour drive outside Kampala, Uganda.   The trainers organised a warm up activity to re-energise everyone after lunch.  The seventy seven teachers were asked to line up outside the training room in order of years of experience.  The spectrum ranged from 35 to 5 years in the classroom. I calculated that there were more than a thousand years of teaching experience represented in that group!

Yet these experienced teachers were eagerly engaging in a series of intensive training sessions to learn new skills and new ways of supporting active learning.   After the one week training course, the Varkey Foundation Uganda team – all experienced Ugandan teachers themselves – carry out follow up visits to the schools over a period of one year to see if the teachers are putting the training into practice in their classrooms.  In almost all cases the answer is yes.

The skills being taught are not rocket science – they will be familiar to many teachers reading NORRAG News.  How to get children thinking and problem solving together.  How to make best use of locally available resources.  How to make sure that every child – especially the girls – participate in the class.  How to pace your lesson and check for understanding so that learning really takes place. This was a cost effective (no expensive international consultants!) and well thought out training programme designed by teachers for teachers.

I have to confess that I have spent far too much time over the past two decades in ‘high level’ discussions on the ‘alphabet soup’ of international development – PRSPs, MDGs, IDTs (anyone remember those?) and now the SDGs. It was a joy to spend a day with practising teachers from some of the poorest communities in Uganda who are still dedicated to the care and learning of the children in their charge.

I am fairly sure that most of those 77 teachers would not have been aware of the details of the 17 SDGs and the 169 associated targets.  Nor would they necessarily have been conscious that their work is critical to the achievement of the targets 4.1, 4.2, 4.5 and (possibly) 4.7 in the education SDGs as well as (indirectly) the achievement of many of the other SDGs.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that the SDGs are not important.  As writers elsewhere in this issue of NN54 have eloquently argued, global goals have a role to play in shaping the agenda of international organisations and (to a lesser extent) influencing national policy decisions.  This global voice of reason is more important than ever as a response to the reactionary and ill-informed nationalism evidenced in many countries.

However, I do make an appeal to all of those involved in these international debates to remind themselves from time to time of the reality of the teachers, classrooms and homes in poorest and marginalised communities in every country in the world.  The SDGs do matter to these communities.  But for the achievement of the education goals at least, #teachersmatter more.


The Varkey Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation committed to ‘Changing lives through education’ by ensuring that every child has a great teacher and advocating for their increased status across the world including through the Global Teacher Prize .

Desmond Bermingham is the Director of Progammes at the Varkey Foundation in London

This blog reproduces an article in the new issue of NORRAG NEWS, NN54, on “Education, Training and Agenda 2030: What Progress One Year On?”.

NORRAG (Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training) is an internationally recognised, multi-stakeholder network which has been seeking to inform, challenge and influence international education and training policies and cooperation for almost 30 years. NORRAG has more than 4,700 registered members worldwide and is free to join. Not a member? Join free here.


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