The National Coordination of Education Unions in Burkina Faso has signed a memorandum of understanding with the government, a landmark agreement covering access to education and improved working conditions.
On 27 January, Education International affiliates were among the National Coordination of Education Unions in Burkina Faso that signed a memorandum of understanding with the government. Negotiations focused on the adoption of a status which values teachers and researchers, better access to education, better working conditions to increase the efficiency of the education system, and an increase in the value placed on teaching.
This agreement is a successful conclusion to unified union action that started on World Teachers’ Day in October 2017. Demonstrations were held, rather than strikes, in order not to cause difficulties for students during the school year. Teacher unions also launched intermittent strikes, one for 48 hours, one for 96 hours, and one for 72 hours. Three-hour sit-ins were organised once a week.
Unity at the heart of success
“It was an unprecedented joint struggle,” said Suleymane Badiel, General Secretary of the Federation of National Teachers and Researchers Unions (F-SYNTER). “We managed to set aside our differences in order to draw attention to our demands.” This kind of action must become “stronger and enduring”, he added.
Anatole Zongo, General Secretary of Syndicat national des enseignants du secondaire et du supérieur (SNESS), agreed that “unity brings strength”. Even though the unions did not share the same opinions, “we all did our best to make things work thanks to the unity at all educational levels, both primary and secondary. We will win by continuing to put forward our demands”.
For the General Secretary of the Syndicat national des enseignants africains du Burkina (SNEAB), Séma Blégné, the Coordination is convinced that unity enabled the achievement of such an outcome. In fact, each union has a memorandum of understanding with the government, but it is not always enforced. “Now the government has no more excuses," said Blégné.
He added that the unity of the unions withstood pressure from many sides, including a long-standing effort to set the population against the unions. “Both public opinion and the press won the struggle,” he said, with every media outlet allowing the Coordination to explain why its actions were necessary. Blégné explained that “the Coordination had chosen not to include just their own members’ demands, but also other issues like access to education and its being free”. Thus, there were measures for parents, students, and teachers, which contributed to the support of public opinion.
Better working conditions for teachers
Badiel (F-SYNTER) also highlighted the benefits of the agreement: lodging allowances have been increased by 26 per cent and will be given exclusively to teachers in the field, which will encourage teachers to work in remote areas; specific allowances, which were disparate, are now harmonised (primary and secondary schools) and increased; and a committee of experts will work on the issue of a new status which could not be defined within the context of these negotiations.
In addition, the future of the educational system in general is accounted for, extending beyond the interests of teachers alone. The agreement provides that free education will extend, from 2020, to the post-primary level, which was not a foregone conclusion.
In addition, student scholarships will become available again, after an absence of 30 years (specific scholarships were available for girls). The unions secured the inclusion of social conditions as a criterion for scholarships, whereas the government had listed excellence as the sole criterion.
The unions also managed to get the government to reinstate boarding schools, at least for technical and professional levels. This is crucial for the economic development of the country, as these streams are very useful for training qualified adults.
The agreement also includes benefits for the private education sector. The government has agreed to meet with the head teachers of non-faith schools and discuss the tripartite agreement signed in 2016. Zongo (SNESS) insisted that the unions will be vigilant regarding the effective enforcement of this agreement, as having a foothold in the private sector is a major challenge for them.
In order to help families who live in large cities and who often have to send their children to private schools, public authorities in Burkina Faso will, when children start secondary education, be responsible for part of the children’s fees, their families will pay the balance. Given the delay by the Government in building state-funded schools in all neighbourhoods, the unions have accepted this type of state funding of private schools for the time being.