More than 200 representatives of 120 education unions in 53 countries across Africa have taken part in the seventh EI African Regional Conference in Brazzaville, Congo, from 29 November to 3 December.
The conference theme of ‘Unity for Sustainable Investment in Quality Public Education’ was the focus of out-going EI Regional President Irene Duncan-Adunusa’s opening address.
Duncan-Adunusa, who is General Secretary of the Ghana National Association of Teachers and an EI Vice-President, emphasised the importance of unity among education unions. She described this as the essence of solidarity and cooperation, whether South-South, North-North or North-South. She stressed that EI affiliates in Africa needed to support each other with technical and financial help and in campaigns on human rights, among other issues. Duncan-Adunusa underlined the essential exchange of knowledge, skills and experiences to help organisations face the challenges of the global economic crisis, the spread of disease, and the effects of climate change.
The opening session also saw a representative of the Congolese President welcome delegates and wish them a productive conference and enjoyable time in Brazzaville.
In his address at the opening session of the conference, EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, said: "Investing in teachers means: investing in teachers' training, investing in teachers' working conditions, and investing in teachers' human and trade union rights. Dear colleagues, now, more than ever, is time for African educators to reaffirm Africa's ability to build a new future for its citizens through education."
On the second day of the conference, EI President, Susan Hopgood, spoke about the unions' role in democratic development: "A vibrant democracy requires, apart from a free press and an active civil society, an independent trade union movement. Moreover, a quality public education system is essential to a socially cohesive and democratic society. It is obvious that teacher organizations not only represent their members industrial interests but also have a key role in contributing to the development of education policy. The Committee of Experts of the ILO and UNESCO have pointed out repeatedly that public authorities ought to consult with the organized teaching profession on all education policy matters. To play this role successfully we must ensure that teacher organizations are independent, strong and undivided."
The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Pai Obanya, a distinguished educationalist previously employed by an EI founding organisation, WCOTP, and UNESCO. In a stimulating and challenging address, Dr. Obanya emphasised the crucial role of teachers in education. He described how educational outcomes are determined by what teachers are able to do and stressed that “teachers are a major input for quality education who nurture the educational process.” Dr. Obanya went on to say that “investing in education is the name of the game and investing in teachers is a key element in this regard” before pointing out that “the voice of teachers is critical in ensuring that governments in Africa focus on the quality dimension in education and channel more money towards attaining this.”
He also emphasised that “the current financial crisis must not be a threat to investing in quality education in Africa. The region has to take a cue from some advanced countries whose budget cuts have consistently spared health and education. Africa should also operate a focus shift from merely spending on education to genuinely investing in the sector.”
Dr. Obanya concluded by saying “there could be no strong teachers’ voice in situations of splintering, with the preponderance of miniscule and weak teachers’ unions.”
The conference received reports on regional activities since the last conference and heard about developments in relation to membership and the financial position of the region. The conference received a report on preparations for EI’s World Congress which will take place in Cape Town during July 2011, and considered proposed amendments to the regional By-Laws.
The conference devoted time to consider the impact of development cooperation in the region and reviewed a draft EI policy paper on development cooperation which was in the course of being prepared.