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EI Asia-Pacific Regional Committee adopts statement on COVID-19

The statement adopted by the Asia-Pacific Regional Committee cites the divergent approaches of governments to the impact of COVID-19 on health, workers, and the economy. It also stresses the lack of consultation of education unions, with rare exceptions, on questions related to the pandemic in the region.

It focuses on disparate effects of the crisis on different groups, on the future of public services, in particular, education. It concludes with recommendations to EI, member organisations, and governments on further efforts to combat the pandemic and deal with its aftermath. 

Some governments have taken effective measures that have limited the spread of the infection, while others are still facing a rising number of cases despite restrictions.

A third group have adopted emergency measures that concentrate power in the hands of a few officials. The statement also mentions the uneven ability and capacity among countries to put into place distance learning and the lack of consultation with trade unions on the introduction and use of that technology.

The statement highlights mass unemployment that is likely to continue that will “disproportionately affect marginalised sectors the hardest and will further deepen existing inequalities.” The continuing crisis, according to the Committee, “will drastically affect the low-income countries, in particular the most vulnerable and marginalised populations; increase gender disparities in education, especially disadvantaging girls, and intensify the divides among students.” 

Although awareness has grown of the importance of public health systems, the Committee was concerned that the implementation of SDG 4 on education will slow and that badly needed financial assistance to schools will not be forthcoming. If that is the case, it may, in effect, encourage the growth of private, for-profit education.

Rather than accepting that this severe setback must reduce the quality and availability of education, the Committee argues, “it is the time to turn this global crisis into an opportunity to rethink the existing education policies, whose inadequacies are now being exposed and worsened, and to envision how the future of education and the teaching profession should look after the pandemic.”

The Committee recommends that Education International should not only continue its efforts to monitor the COVID-19 situation and share information, but also intensify its efforts to defend “rights of educators and all workers and the protection of fundamental human rights”, develop policy guidelines on distance learning and ICT, and work to incorporate health care personnel in schools. It also stresses the importance of cooperation with the international community on planning the future of education and the teaching profession following the pandemic.

The Committee urges member organisations to continue to lead the fight to limit the impact of COVID-19 on teachers, students and parents, to protect the terms, working conditions and rights of educators and education support personnel, to assess and respond to the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable and marginalised groups and women and to fight for increased funding of education. Following the pandemic, it will be especially important to have the means to “address the lost time and to bridge existing gaps among learners”. 

Governments are encouraged, in cooperation with education unions, to ensure the safety, health and well-being of students, teachers and ESP, to minimise the health risks of re-opening by putting adequate measures and protections in place, to fully fund education, to prevent the entry of private, for-profit education actors into education  and to guarantee the rights and protections of all education workers.  They are urged to ensure that government actions during and after the pandemic are “holistic, comprehensive, and inclusive”.

The statement can be downloaded here.