How can education unions play an active role in ensuring that student performance is gender equal?

published 4 March 2014 updated 7 April 2014

At Education International’s (EI) North America and Caribbean Regional Conference, held in Montego Bay on 24-26 February, Ms. Georgia Waugh Richards from the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) suggested that in Caribbean countries “gender streaming” in education may help improve the performance of boys, who are lagging behind girls in school achievement. Ms. Richards’s suggestion stirred a lively debate among the 120 participants representing member unions in 24 countries.

The main obstacle to gender equity in education and to the improvement of quality in education in general was, according to most participants, the insufficient funding of public school systems, often as a result of pressures exerted by the international financial institutions.

Member organisations in the USA and Canada described their struggle against forces that have lined up in their countries against collective bargaining, against public education itself and even against the provision of fundamental education services.

In his keynote address, Fred van Leeuwen, EI General Secretary, discussed UNESCO’s recently published Global Monitoring Report which reveals that some 175 million young people in poor countries cannot read all or part of a sentence and that only one in five of the poorest children reach the end of primary school having learned the basics in reading and mathematics. “In too many reports, the fault for this is laid at the feet of the usual suspects – the teachers,” van Leeuwen said.

“But our response is clear: You cannot trace the thread of a poor learning outcome for students and stop at the nexus point of student and teacher any more than you can understand a poor health outcome by the interaction of patient and physician.”  He criticised governments for not meeting their funding commitments to education and for failing to adequately invest in teachers’ training, and urged the representatives “to mobilise and engage your members in school communities, whether classroom teachers, lecturers, school nurses, bus drivers, or janitors, all those on whom quality education depends, in our global initiative to achieve better education for a better world.”

In opening the conference EI Vice President Dennis Van Roekel stressed the importance of member organisations engaging in the “Unite for Quality Education Campaign.”

The conference, which was chaired by Calvin Fraser, General Secretary of the Canadian Teachers Federation (CTF), also featured special sessions on “Regional Development Cooperation”, “Privatization/Commercialization, Charter Schools, Vouchers, Contracting Out”, “Priorities for Higher Education in the Caribbean”, and “Threats to Labour Rights throughout the Region”.

The conference was co-hosted by the Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) and the JTA.