Education International
Education International

One profession, one voice: teachers’ unions united in Berlin

published 3 March 2016 updated 8 March 2016

When education ministers look across the table during the sixth International Summit on the Teaching Profession in Berlin, Germany, they will be faced with a common voice speaking for all teachers.

When the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) took place in New York in 2011, it was the teachers’ unions that took the initiative to make it happen. Fives year later on the eve of the sixth ISTP in Berlin, the voice of the teachers’ profession has never been stronger.

To prepare for the Summit, Education International (EI) and its affiliates convened in Berlin to rally around the theme, “Teachers’ professional learning and growth: creating the conditions to achieve quality teaching for excellent learning outcomes,” as they head into face-to-face dialogue with 23 governments to address the concerns of their teachers. This is why the Summit has become embedded as an important and unique annual event.

“The sixth Summit is not taking place in a vacuum,” said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “The United Nations has just agreed a range of Sustainable Development Goals, including crucial education goals, for all countries. This Summit therefore represents a great opportunity to create teacher policies which will help achieve those goals.”

Beyond the development goals, the refugee crisis has shown that education extends far beyond the classroom. Van Leeuwen reiterated that education unions are leading the way to spearhead efforts to see that refugee children also receive a quality education.

Dennis Shirley, a Professor of Education at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, had the opportunity to address the ISTP teacher union delegates. Looking to education to transform lives was at the heart of Shirley’s impressive presentation, which acted as a pep talk for EI’s affiliates.

“I hope that we are all on a quest for achievement with integrity,” said Shirley. “We need to create conditions within our schools where teachers can thrive. Teachers are creatures of their cultural environment.”

Referring to reports like PISA and Surpassing Shanghai, which he says feed the Global Education Reform Movement, also known as the GERM, Shirley asked why there is always a goal to surpass their findings, rather than learn from them.

Shirley touched on current issues facing education and politics, but also looked to history for lessons learnt.

Recognising that the summit is taking place in former East Berlin, Shirley compared how the revolt which brought down the Wall is also happening throughout education. Using an example of parents opting out of testing in US, what he called a “mass revolt,” Shirley said that “you have to be hard” to improve the human condition.

With EI and the OECD, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs (KMK) is hosting the Summit, which takes place 3-4 March. Organisers are expecting roughly 400 participants from 24 countries – including 23 international education ministers.