Education International’s sixth Asia-Pacific Regional Conference finished today in Bangkok after three days of debates on a variety of problems confronting the teaching profession in the organisation’s largest region.
On 28 September, the conference was opened by the Education Minister of Thailand, Jurin Laksanavisit. More than 300 union leaders representing 9 million educators in 37 countries attended the meeting. On the last day a Regional Committee was elected for the next four years with Yuzuru Nakamura of NIKKYOSO (Japan) as its President.
Discussions centred around the impact of the financial and economic crisis on the education sector. There were concerns expressed about the quality of public education services, a decline in school enrolment - especially of girls, and an increase of child labour in low-income countries.
It was felt that the drying up of development funds would jeopardize the achievement of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals to end poverty by 2015: “If we want to achieve education for all children in the coming six years, governments will have to redouble their efforts and drastically increase investments in our school systems,” said a representative from India.
The Asian-Pacific education unions are also troubled by the lack of respect some governments show for international human and trade union rights standards:
In Fiji, where the military government had a teacher leader dismissed for advocating a return to democratic rule; in Korea, where teachers have been laid off for protesting against the introduction of standardized tests; and in other places, such as Cambodia and Taiwan, where public authorities are not fully respecting teachers professional freedoms and collective bargaining rights. Special attention was given to the situation in Myanmar where education unions are outlawed. A delegation of Burmese teachers reported on the ongoing suppression of educators by the military regime.
In his keynote address, EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen urged the union leaders to be pro-active in promoting democracy and social justice in their region. He pointed to countries in Central Asia where, during the harvest season, teachers are forced to send children into the cotton fields.
“We expect our member organizations to speak out against this intolerable practice,” he said. “I am fully aware of the risks involved in confronting authoritarian governments, but frankly, our moral and democratic duty as independent education unions leave us no choice but to challenge any public authority or private enterprise that denies a child its basic right to education.”
“To reduce the impact of the crisis", we must pursue a strategy of action that combines all the forces we have at our disposal,” continued Van Leeuwen. “We must link together our global strategy, our work across the Asia-Pacific region, and your national action. There must be a single unbroken thread from the global to the local. To succeed, we must combine ideas with actions at each of these levels.”
Participants of the conference endorsed a recommendation by the Asia-Pacific Women’s Caucus for a range of activities to be undertaken by EI to help remove obstacles to gender inequity still rampant throughout the region. They also endorsed a proposal by the higher education unions to pay more attention to their sector's vital role in advancing socio-economic developments of the region.
To read the full text of the General Secretary's keynote address in English, please click on the link below.