Education International
Education International

EI honours outstanding teachers and trade unionists

published 26 July 2007 updated 26 July 2007

At every World Congress, Education International presents two major awards to honour outstanding teachers and trade unionists. This year's award winners come from Colombia and Togo, both places where teachers and trade unionists face challenges unknown here in Germany.

The 2007 Albert Shanker Education Award, given to an outstanding teacher or education worker, goes to Ernestine Akouavi Akakpo-Gbofu, a multi-talented kindergarten teacher whose professional career has been devoted to the promotion of early childhood education in her native country, Togo. Because of the severe lack of books, games and other classroom materials, Akakpo-Gbofu and other creative African teachers make their own resources to meet the needs of their students.

Ernestine Akouavi Akakpo-Gbofu

Akakpo-Gbofu has 26 years’ experience in helping pre-school teachers produce and use educational games to enhance children’s intellectual development. Her innovative teaching materials are so popular that she won commissions from UNESCO. Her works have often been exhibited at cultural events and seminars, and are widely used in Francophone Africa.

An experienced activist, she also was one of the founders of Togo’s national pre-school teachers’ union, the Syndicat National des Educateurs du Préscolaire du Togo (SNEPS-TOGO) in 1994.

One of the books by this successful author, La chèvre vaniteuse, won the 1992 children’s literature prize awarded by the Agence de la Francophonie. The death of a friend suffering from AIDS prompted her to write La sorcière et le SIDA to help tackle the pandemic by educating children about AIDS and how to prevent infection.

Akakpo-Gbofu is passionate about the role of the teacher in building a more just and democratic society. “We are the ones who instil values in the generations of tomorrow. For us to fail in our weighty responsibility may put the future of humanity in jeopardy,” she said.

The Mary Hatwood Futrell Human and Trade Union Rights Award is given to a union leader or activist who has undertaken courageous and exemplary action to defend and promote human and trade union rights.

Raquel Castro and Samuel Morales

This year’s co-winners are Raquel Castro and Samuel Morales, Colombian teacher activists who were imprisoned in August 2004 after a military operation in which they witnessed the assassination of three trade union colleagues.

Despite years of incarceration, their spirit and commitment remain strong. In an open letter written from prison, Morales expressed his belief that “dignity and intellectual freedom transcend, like a phoenix, the bars and cells of repression and state tyranny.”

Neither teacher is able to attend the gala awards ceremony in Berlin. Morales was recently released, but the government of Colombia denied him permission to leave the country. Castro remains incarcerated in the political prisoners’ wing of Bogotá Women’s Prison.

While Morales’s release is welcome, he and his family continue to be at high risk of attack by paramilitaries who have previously threatened them. Education International joins Amnesty International in calling on the Colombian authorities to ensure the safety of both teachers and their family members, and to respect international law pertaining to labour rights.

Colombia has long been one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a trade unionist. Amnesty estimates that 4,000 trade unionists have been assassinated or “disappeared” in the past 20 years, and the Colombian Human Rights Commission lists 33 teacher trade unionists killed in Colombia last year alone.

In granting this award to Raquel Castro and Samuel Morales, EI also honours the thousands of other teachers and trade unionists who have sacrificed so much for the cause of trade union rights and quality public education.


Video of the Albert Shanker Education Award recipient, Ms Ernestine Akouavi Akakpo-Gbofu

Video of Amanda Rincón Suarez from FECODE Spain, who received the Mary Hatwood Futrell Human and Trade Union Rights Award on behalf of recipients Raquel Castro and Samuel Morales