Conclusions by Fred van Leeuwen, EI General Secretary, at the High Level Seminar on the impact of the economic crisis on education in central and eastern Europe in Warsaw, 2-4 September 2009
The past two days we have debated, shared experiences and ideas and developed proposals with respect to the impact of the financial and economic crisis on the education sector. If there is one conclusion we can draw straight away, it is that the crisis is affecting this region very badly and is likely to continue to do so. We have to find ways and means to confront the situation collectively and to exert our influence to mitigate and reduce the effects. Thursday’s sessions helped us to clearly identify the different worrying trends and aspects of the impact on our education systems and on our profession. Our unions have a critical role to play not only to protect the interest of our members and the teaching profession as a whole but also to defend the right to education, to ensure that progress that have been made so far to achieve universal primary education will not be undermined by the present cuts and short term negative policies implemented by governments. We need to reaffirm and to advocate everywhere that education is one of the most profitable investments any country can make to secure future economic growth and development. Education is an essential part of the recovery. Good quality education equips people with the knowledge and skills they need to gain employment and increase their incomes, which, in the right circumstances will have a real impact on reducing poverty overall and promoting economic growth at the national level. As unemployment is rising generally, governments must guarantee continued investment in the education sector. In order to ensure equity and fairness, public funding for education is essential. You have consistently reported: cut backs, freezing of teacher recruitment, firing teachers, reducing salaries and related benefits, and deterioration of the learning environments for all students. All these cuts will lead to higher pupil-to-teacher ratios, will damage the quality of education and will increase the drop-out rate, and even to a rise in child labour. It was shown yesterday that the enrolment of children in primary schools is declining globally and we cannot simply accept this situation. Sacrificing the future of a generation of children and failing to provide adults with the possibilities for training and upgrading skills to help them find new jobs and contribute to the development of society, is totally unacceptable to us. During the workshops and the last session on the strategy this morning, we have stressed the importance of developing our own capacity, of undertaking our own research to respond to the crisis in a more credible and consistent manner. We have taken note of your needs and will continue to work intensively on our campaign ‘Hands up for Education’. We will develop a strategy document as a supplement to our factsheets, to provide an example to other regions. We will continue with our work on facing the challenges of the crisis, for example in Latin America and Asia in the coming weeks. At the end of September there will be a regional conference in Sao Paolo and at the end of October in Bangkok. We will adress with our members the same issues discussed in the past days. It is important to stress that, with our partners in the global trade union movement, we will continue to advocate for the reform of international financial institutions and to relax the stringent conditionalities which they are still attaching to country loans. We are facing the problems, but I strongly believe in the value of the exchanges we have had. I think we can leave Warsaw better prepared to rise collectively to confront the very real challenges before us and to act with renewed energy and conviction. This crisis is a global problem, that will require global solutions. As Nelson Mandela once said: ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’. I believe that this truth is such a powerful argument in our advocacy, nationally and regionally, and globally, and with this argument we cannot fail.