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40th UNESCO General Conference: Teachers and educators at the core of achieving SDG 4

Education International and its member organisations have been active at UNESCO’s 40th General Conference, where teachers and educators were high on the agenda.

The UNESCO general conference, taking place from 12-27 November, has been debating the future of multilateralism in today’s rapidly changing world. At the Education Commission, UNESCO member states have made multiple important decisions that will push forward progress towards achieving quality education for all.

Key resolutions adopted so far include: a convention on the recognition of higher education qualifications, a resolution on coordination and progress on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, a new framework on Education for Sustainable Development, a strategy for literacy, as well as a recommendation on open educational resources. The General Conference also took a decision to develop a new UNESCO standard-setting instrument on the ethics of artificial intelligence.

Giving an overview of UNESCO’s programme to achieve SDG 4, Assistant Director-General for Education, Stefania Giannini, highlighted four key trends that are impacting and transforming education: demographics, climate change, migration, and technology. She outlined how UNESCO’s work aimed to bring about strengthened social cohesion in the context of these trends. UNESCO, she said, would fast track initiatives on inclusion and innovation, continue to provide leadership on SDG 4, invest in foresight and research, and support system strengthening at the country level. Gender would be a cross-cutting focus, whilst Africa would be prioritised and the budget allocated to the region would be doubled.

There was strong support for UNESCO as the coordinating agency for SDG 4 but many delegates also called on the institution to strengthen its leadership role as other actors and initiatives have emerged in recent years. Giannini assured the General Conference that UNESCO would be more accountable, more understandable, and more visible in the education sector. However, she also called on member states to do their part, emphasising that governments had a responsibility to make SDG 4 a reality through strong political will and increased investment in education.

Notably, after years of intensive advocacy work from Education International, teachers were repeatedly framed as crucial actors for quality education throughout the Education Commission. Gianni remarked that ministers’ interventions during the week showed that there is a common understanding that teachers are at the core of achieving SDG 4: “Without highly qualified, well trained teachers, everything else is pure literature.”

Education unions representatives were active in the debates, ensuring that teachers and education support personnel’s views were voiced. Speaking at a ministerial meeting on enhancing inclusion and mobility in higher education, Haldis Holst, EI Deputy General Secretary, stressed that for higher education to truly be inclusive it cannot become a market-place under the guise of increasing mobility. Furthermore, inclusion and mobility of higher education staff must be considered alongside that of students. Jean Portugais, FQPPU President, Canada, also spoke on the topic, pointing out that the quality assurance component of the Global Convention must not be used to undermine academic freedom and professional autonomy, as is currently the case in many universities

Speaking on UNESCO’s work on SDG 4, EI Senior Coordinator, Dennis Sinyolo, stressed that at the current pace, SDG 4 will not be achieved by 2030 as countries are not investing enough in education, there is a shortage of qualified teachers and too many marginalised children are denied access to education. Governments need to dramatically step up their investments in education, invest in teachers and work together with their unions, and ensure that no-one is left behind.

 

EI and UNESCO launch the first Global Framework of Professional Teaching Standards

The Framework was launched at the UNESCO General Conference on 16 November, in the presence of education ministers, EI member organisations and policy experts. Developed in close collaboration with UNESCO, the Framework is the result of a participatory process that responds to the wish and the right of educators to be at the table when education policy decisions are made.

In front of a packed room, Susan Hopgood, EI president, took the floor to present the new instrument and underlined that teaching standards – when developed and controlled by the teaching profession – can play an important role in improving teaching and learning globally.

“We encourage teacher unions and governments to use this framework to strengthen their national professional teaching standards, teaching and learning practices in order to ensure equitable, inclusive, free, quality education for all”, urged Hopgood.

UNESCO Assistant Director General for Education, Stefania Giannini, added that “professional teaching standards designed with the aim to define what quality teaching means for delivering quality education are a powerful instrument in the hands of educators. Their development is one of the critical steps in order to increase the supply of qualified and trained teachers necessary to ensure quality education for all children and adolescents by 2030.”

 

Recommendation on Open Educational Resources

In a very welcome move, on 19 November, the UNESCO General Conference adopted the Recommendation on Open Educational Resources which paves the way towards increased access to teaching materials: an essential part of the right to education, SDG 4, as well as UNESCO’s 2030 Framework for Action.

The recommendation also enables teachers to exercise their academic freedom and professional autonomy (UNESCO/ILO Conventions on the status of teachers/researchers) in choosing and adapting materials for teaching and learning.

Throughout its involvement in the development of the recommendation, EI worked to ensure that several key elements were included in the instrument:

  • consulting teachers and their unions in the development and use of Open Educational Resources (OER);
  • provisions for continuous professional development;
  • quality assurance (i.e. sensitive to local needs, gender issues, disability sensitive, indigenous knowledge etc.);
  • allocation of adequate public funding;
  • privacy and data protection for students and teachers working with OER platforms and services;
  • adequate copyright exceptions to create quality OER, including the consideration to develop an international instrument on the topic.

As an official UNESCO instrument, the recommendation will provide national governments with advice on OER policies and practices and will ask countries to report on their efforts and progress.

The recommendation will also be a valuable tool to ensure more sustainable and affordable access to openly licensed textbooks and will help to challenge traditional commercially driven publishing markets for education.

 

Beyond the Conference

Over this marathon conference, hundreds of ministers will have reported on the good policies they have implemented and hundreds will have expressed their good intentions to make further progress. We call on all governments to keep the promises and pledges made during the conference in the years to come. After all, with increased investment, strong political will and adequate cooperation, achieving SDG 4 is still possible.