Over 400 education unionists are gathered from 18-20 September in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the 7th EI Asia-Pacific regional conference. They will be holding debates on the theme: “Quality Public Education - Building Asia-Pacific’s Social and Economic Future”.
The Malaysian Deputy Education Minister, Dato’ Mary Yap, welcomed delegates and observers, saying, “Quality education is not only a human right, it is crucial for the future of Asia-Pacific”.
Investing in education is good for a country’s budget in the long run, she added, as countries that invested in human capital via education have made progress in terms of development.
She also stressed that a key factor for the quality of public education is producing quality teachers, being trained well before joining the profession, and in-service training.
Governments must invest generous sums in public education and make sure that students successfully end their education, Dato’ Mary Yap said.
“Good teachers will ensure a sustainable quality of education, which means, among other things, increasing their salaries, increasing the guarantee for transport allowance for those working in remote areas, giving more incentives for young people to join the profession and remain in it.”
Teaching and learning environments need to be designed in such a way that they support teachers and education employees, Dato’ Mary Yap also insisted.
MDGs key to future
For her, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) show that the combined efforts of governments, intergovernmental organisations, trade unions and civil society can have positive outcomes. She said that MDGs are the most successful global anti-poverty push.
That’s why, she explained, more MDGs can be reached by 2015, and more efforts are urgently needed to achieve them in the last two years.
“Technology is not a silver bullet, and classroom teachers remain the best influence on students, so there must be an appropriate support to classroom teachers,” stressed Dato’ Mary Yap. “Quality public education is a fundamental pillar to build Asia-Pacific’s economic and social future and it contributes to the personal and professional development of individuals, as well as the development of society at large.”
Quality education, she added, promotes peace, democracy, solidarity and intercultural understanding, and provides skills to understand local and global issues. She further said that access to education must be guaranteed by public authorities to all.
EI: Responsibility to build bridges
“The law of the jungle prevails over the law of justice,” deplored EI President Susan Hopgood. “We know that ongoing violence is a reality in some countries. EI and its affiliates have a responsibility to share a vision on building bridges. The path to democracy is long and hard, and quality public education for all is central.”
She went on to say that through education, society equips young people with attitudes, skills and values to play their role in their communities.
The UN Charter and the International Human Rights Declaration, due to their independence, are applicable to all, regardless of their religion, beliefs, cultural background or sexual orientation, Hopgood added. She explained that they are the highest authoritative instruments, giving the gift of freedom.
Hopgood also indicated: “The key to end discrimination is quality education, supported by tolerance and cultural understanding. We need education for life, and education must make students citizens and actors in society.”
Better working conditions
Boosting the quality of education requires a massive investment in the teaching profession, in teachers’ pay, employment conditions and training, she recognised.
Deprofessionalisation is the main challenge faced by the profession nowadays, she said. Hopgood explained that alongside a professional battle, teacher unions must fight a political battle, to ensure that all students have a fair chance in the labour market and in life via public education.
As the EI 2011 study on financing quality public services shows, she said, resources to finance public education are there, it only takes political courage.
Even if the World Bank claims that commercialisation of education will increase its quality, there is actually no evidence to supports this, she underlined. In fact, the best performing countries in education globally have strong trade unions and well-rooted social dialogue, she insisted.
EI World Action Year
Hopgood then informed participants about the EI World Action Year, which will be a great opportunity for EI and its affiliates to ensure that education remains a priority for all governments worldwide and ask for appropriate resources for education.
She stated: “There is no cheap solution nor shortfall: do not force poor people to have to choose between feeding their children or sending them to school! That’s immoral!
“Let’s not build barriers, but bridges, and promote human rights and quality education for all children of this planet! The quality of learning and teaching drops when teachers have no rights and live in poverty.”
EI Day of Action
She later informed participants about the EI Day of Action, on 5 October 2014, with simultaneous rallies to alert governments about the importance of education.
“We should be pioneers of a new understanding of quality education: we must have a constructive understanding of education as a tool to create democratic societies,” she said. “We should also be pioneers for the role of women in schools, society and unions.”
EI Senior coordinator Shashi Bala Singh later presented the Asia-Pacific region’s report, highlighting the need to fight cuts in education budgets, violence against girls and women, violation of human rights, and child labour through quality public education, development cooperation, and gender equity in the region.