EI wants free universal quality education for all to be a key priority for governments in the post-2015 agenda. That was the message from EI Deputy General Secretary David Edwards at EI’s 10th annual EI Research Network meeting being held from 28-29 April in Brussels, Belgium.
“We want ‘free’, not ‘affordable’, education,” he said in his opening speech. “Lots of data is thrown around about education, so we need to have our own evidence base to inform our members for negotiations. If we want to win support from parents, students, civil society in general, we need more evidence.”
Research is a fundamental part of EI’s work, said Edwards. This was reinforced by Guntars Catlaks and Mireille de Koning, from the EI Research Unit, who presented recent research studies undertaken by EI, such as: Teacher Union-Governmental Relations in the context of educational reform by Nina Bascia; Study on trends in freedom of association and collective bargaining in the education sector since the financial crisis by Nora Wintour; the European Trade Union Committee’s Study on Preventing Early School Leaving through ICT in Education; and EI's Education For All assessments written after national consultations and online teachers' surveys.
Migrant teachers’ rights must be respected
Nancy van Meter from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) later presented a study on teacher migration and mobility. This reported that migrant teachers were older than expected and had higher levels of education than anticipated, with women representing 61 per cent of migrant teachers.
“Migrant teachers say their experience allow them to provide better quality education,” she added. “Professional exchange is the best chance of promoting quality and the status of the profession, but investment in it is decreasing.”
There is also a real risk of discrimination based on national origin in teacher migration, van Meter noted. She highlighted that countries with greater resources can attract qualified migrant teachers more than countries that have the greatest needs.
She went on to say that visa issues for migrant teachers are linked to the broader casualisation of education trend. And fees are overwhelmingly sought from teachers from poorer countries.
International hiring can mask the cause of teacher shortages, van Meter highlighted, urging education unions in receiving countries to be more proactive.
She also detailed the study recommendations to trade unions:
• Make more and better data available
• Protect and support migrant teachers
• Increase exchange opportunities
• Reduce reliance on recruitment
• Empower migrants through unions
• Harmonise the policy framework for Education, Immigration and Labour
UK/Ireland union comparison
The presentation on trade unionism in difficult times, comparing England and Ireland, was made by Howard Stevenson from the University of Nottingham.
Stevenson stressed that, in England, 54 per cent of secondary schools and 10 per cent of primary schools are academies (private). “The fact that there is no union recognition at school level is an emerging issue in England, and there is the dismantling of an established industrial relations framework,” he said.
In Ireland, teachers are experiencing challenging times because of the economic crisis, with cuts in pay and pensions, Stevenson added. There, activists come in very different profiles (teachers, school leaders, diverse ages, etc.), he explained, with low morale, pay and conditions as the key issues for Irish teachers.
“In both countries, I see a union response, starting with pedagogical and professional values, and the aim should beto have the union as the professional identity of the professional teacher,” Stevenson concluded.
In another presentation, Nina Bascia from the University of Toronto reflected on two EI studies carried out in 2013 about teacher unions in changing times.
“We need to take each case study in Sweden, South Africa, England, and Alberta (Canada) individually, and comparison is not always the right way,” she said, talking about freedom of association and collective bargaining. She noted that neoliberal ideology, changes in policy directions, and the financial crisis led to the 'volatility' in most case studies. However, she said, unions have made progress in some places in terms of partnerships.
She also underlined that governments and jurisdictions hold the final power over education, teacher unions are learning to operate in new ways, and increasing amounts of research are being conducted. “Times are changing and getting harder, but at least we now know more about them through research,” she said.