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Benin: joint action by education unions on COVID-19 prevention along with inclusive education and boosting union leadership role

Two unions from Benin affiliated to Education International have decided to join forces to raise awareness among their members on prevention and protection against COVID-19 and on inclusive education and building the role of union leadership within the context of the pandemic in public sector nursery and primary schools. For them, it is, above all, a question of ensuring social and political dialogue for the revival of education after the reopening of schools in Benin.

The COVID-19 Solidarity Fund of Education International will finance the joint project of two Beninese affiliates, the Syndicat national des enseignants des écoles maternelles du Bénin (SYNAEM) and the Syndicat national de l’enseignement primaire public du Bénin (SNEP-Bénin).
 
The education unions of Benin argue that the health crisis linked to COVID-19 has become an education crisis that has dangerously affected the educational community in Benin and, consequently, their members and activists.
 
Union life and work overshadowed by the pandemic  
 
During the confinement period, the onus shifted away from union life and action. It had become difficult to carry out trade union activities throughout the country. In a context where check-off is not yet practiced, it was difficult to conduct campaigns to raise awareness and mobilise members, or even to collect union dues.   
 
During the same period, numerous cases of gender-based violence were reported. The employment contracts and salaries of activists operating in private schools were frozen without notice.  
 
The Council of Ministers of May 6, 2020 decided to resume classes for final-year students from 11 May so that end-of-year exams can be held. Students from other grade levels will begin returning to their schools between August 10 and September 28. With regard to nursery schools and day-care centres, these will remain closed until the next academic year. 
 
In a context where learning institutions are reopened while the COVID-19 infection curve is not fully under control, continued awareness raising among education staff, learners and parents is needed. In addition, there should be a continuous social and political dialogue between administrative and political authorities at local and central level and educators and their unions. Both are necessary for any effective strategy for education.  
 
This is why SYNAEM and SNEP-Benin, working jointly, have decided to raise their members' awareness on prevention and protection against the Coronavirus and on inclusive education and strengthening union leadership within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in public nursery and primary schools to ensure social and political dialogue for the revival of education after the reopening of schools in Benin. 
 
Aims of the joint union project
 
The general aims of their project are:
  • Contributing to guaranteeing all SYNAEM-B and SNEP activists a safe resumption of educational activities in a context of health crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Raising awareness among members for inclusive and equitable education in the context of COVID-19.
  • Maintaining constant social and political dialogue to ensure inclusive quality education for all children within the context of the current health crisis. 
 
SYNAEM General Secretary Gaëtan Kponoukon stressed some specific aims: 
  • Bolstering the prevention and protection capacities of teachers in nursery and primary schools in Benin against COVID-19. 
  • Raising awareness among members of SYNAEM and SNEP -Bénin on the importance for women to be organised.
  • Training the representatives of SYNAEM and SNEP-Bénin at the departmental level on inclusive education and social dialogue. 
  • Strengthening the union leadership capacities of the representatives of SYNAEM-BENIN and SNEP. 
  • Recruitment of new members.
 
Appoline Mawouna Fagla, General Secretary of SNEP-Bénin, emphasises that, thanks to this project, their union has been able to raise the awareness of its members on the importance of leadership by and within the union during the pandemic.
 
She states that “on the ground, the comrades are highly pleased with this united union action, albeit on a somewhat small scale. They are notably delighted that this awareness has allowed them to re-engage with union-based activities from the outset of the pandemic.”
 
Strategy of the project
 
The strategy adopted jointly by the two unions consists of regular consultation among the project team members, strong mobilisation of members and awareness raising on preventive measures against COVID-19. 
 
Furthermore, they are trying to boost participation of teachers through the implementation of the project and will gather the views of teachers after the activity is completed. 
 
In the course of this work, the Education International Guidance on Reopening Schools and Education Institutions will be disseminated.
 
The establishment of a commission for the execution and monitoring of the project is also planned, as well as the provision by Education International of technical support for the implementation of the project.