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Africa: Governments and teacher unions highlight benefits of collaboration

Teachers’ professional issues and government-teacher union collaboration were at the heart of an online seminar on the Future of the Teaching Profession in Africa for 2020.

The seminar was dedicated to adopting the Consensus Document between teacher unions and governments around teachers’ professional issues. Held on 6 October, it was attended by the Ministers of Education of South Africa and Ethiopia, ministry officials, and teacher unions’ leadership from eight African countries: Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Mali, Mozambique, South Africa, and Uganda.

Renewal of working model

The theme of this fourth and final session of online seminars was “Education Disruptions: Renewing the Commitment to Collaboration between Government and Teacher Unions’’ and was moderated by Dr. Dennis Sinyolo, Chief Regional Coordinator of Education International’s Africa Region.

The seminar was organised by Education International and Open Society Foundations (OSF), in collaboration with UNESCO’s International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa (IICBA) and the UNESCO International Task Force on Teachers (ITTF).

Dr. Sinyolo linked the seminars to Education International’s 24-hour virtual celebration of World Teachers’ Day (WTD). To mark WTD, the Education International Africa Region commissioned research to assess the impact of the pandemic on education in Africa, learners, teachers, and education support personnel. The research was carried out by Professor Steve Nwokeocha, Director of AFTRA, and also collected examples of education unions’ responses to the crisis. The Executive Summary of the survey  is available in French, English, and Portuguese.

Success in addressing COVID-19

The seminar highlighted how responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were more successful in countries where government and teacher unions collaborated in addressing the crisis. According to Angelina Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education in South Africa, “Teachers feel reassured in implementing a policy when they know their unions are involved in that policy development”. She also indicated the need to involve students’ parents in addressing crises that affect the education system.

Dr. Eng. Getahun Mekuriya, the Minister of Education in Ethiopia, highlighted how the Ethiopian government had decided to recognise the teaching profession by establishing a prize for renowned teachers across the country.

Consensus Document

The collaboration between government representatives and teacher union leaders at the various sessions of the virtual seminars beginning on 15 September resulted in the development of a Consensus Document. The Document outlines possible actions on how governments and teacher unions could work in partnership to advance both the teaching profession and the quality of education, especially in times of crisis around the topics of curriculum, assessment, Continuous Professional Learning, and the development of psychosocial support for students and teachers. This fourth session ended with the unanimous adoption of the Document.

Actions to advance professional issues

Overall, the Ministers of Education, senior ministery officials, and union representatives acknowledged that working in partnership was more beneficial for the education systems on the continent. In language-based breakout sessions, participants identified crucial actions on which governments and unions could commit to advance areas outlined in the consensus document.

International partners including the ITTF, UNESCO-IICBA, and Education International, with the support of the OSF, volunteered to follow up the joint commitment of governments and teachers’ unions.