Keynote Address by Fred van Leeuwen, General Secretary Education International, at the 29th Annual National Conference of the Zimbabwe Teachers' Association (ZIMTA), 13-16 April 2010

published 14 April 2010 updated 14 April 2010

Honorable Ministers, Distinguished Guests, Colleagues, Friends,

It is an honour to address your Conference and to present to you the greetings of millions of teachers around the globe. Your organisation is a proud member, a founding member, of the Education International, which brings together more than 400 education unions in 171 countries, together representing more than 30 million educators. Colleagues, in 1995 you hosted EI’s first World Congress, held after our founding Congress in Stockholm. 15 years later we can truly say that Education International is your voice, the voice of teachers and the education sector, at all the major international agencies whose debates and decisions affect our profession and the work we do to give hope to children and young people everywhere. We are a professional association, a labour union, a human rights organization and a development agency in one. And as all of you know, there is a lot of work to do in each of these four areas – in your country, in Africa and in the world at large. Education International is also about solidarity. We bring colleagues together, to share, to exchange, and to support each other. Through development programmes, we help to build the capacity of our member unions, for both their trade union work, and for the raising of professional standards, to help their members become better teachers. Colleagues, today we live in a global community, and global agencies of international cooperation have ever more importance for our work. At the same time, regional agencies are growing in importance too, for each region has its own specific challenges to address. So the task for a worldwide Global Union like Education International is to facilitate effective advocacy at each of these levels – global, regional and national. I do not need to remind you that we also live in dramatic times. In the global community of the 21st century, we confront several major crises, all at once. The global financial and economic crisis began in late 2008, and continues to impact on the education systems of many countries. No region, no country, can isolate itself from this crisis. More than 50 million people have been thrown out of work worldwide and the World Bank says that up to 200 million more will fall below the poverty line. Social justice in the world is going backwards, not forwards. As we moved into this new century, the globalized economy reached into every corner of the earth, and there was an unprecedented global boom – for some! But, as we warned so often, there was also an unprecedented rise in inequality. I can show you statement after statement in which the international trade union movement, including EI, warned that social cohesion was being stretched to the limit, and that the boom was unsustainable because of dangerous imbalances. In 2008 the boom bust! And since then the great majority is paying the price for the greed and folly of a few. This economic crisis comes on top of other crises – the food crisis in many developing countries, the ravages of HIV/AIDS, movements of refugees and migrants, conflicts between cultures, between nations, climate change, and last but not least, the national crisis you are confronting. But it is also in times of crisis – even multiple crises like these – that new opportunities are created, that history is made. I strongly believe that quality education for all children and young people is part of the solution; and that together we can help shape a new global economy – built on stronger foundations – based on the education, the skills and the capacities of citizens, based on equity and justice. Colleagues, what I am saying today about creating opportunity out of crisis applies to the world – and it applies to Zimbabwe. Your education system was a model for Africa for nearly 20 years, with a literacy rate of more than 90 per cent. Today, we have great hope in the action taken by the inclusive government to rebuild the education system, following its near-collapse in the last decade. The presence of the Honorable Ministers with us today bear testimony to your country’s commitment to rebuilding the education system. We acknowledge the progress made so far, particularly in getting teachers and students back to school, and in establishing the Education Transition Fund. I do urge the government to continue to work with teachers’ unions and other stakeholders to revive the education system, knowing that at the same time you must address issues such as nutrition, health and sanitation. Honorable Ministers and distinguished guests. To turn crisis into opportunity requires the renewed engagement of your teachers! Being a teacher means belonging to the most noble of professions. But, unfortunately, in many countries being a teacher also means not being treated fairly, not being paid properly, and sometimes even living in poverty. It is not surprising that the world faces an unprecedented shortage of qualified teachers. In the coming years more than 10 million primary school teachers must be trained and recruited if we want to achieve quality education for every child on this planet and to eradicate child labour for once and for all. There is a related challenge facing Africa – the recruitment of teachers from here to countries like Britain, to overcome their own teacher shortages. Global mobility can be a good thing. But it must be equitable. When brain drain is not balanced by brain gain, low income countries are penalized, and so are the students. That is also why we support the Commonwealth Teacher Recruitment Protocol. Countries that see their qualified teachers move to Europe and the United States are to be compensated, while we need to ensure that teachers moving to these countries are protected against exploitation. I can give you horrific examples of colleagues who thought they wouldbe moving to greener pastures in the North but who found themselves in low paid positions stacked away in gloomy dormitories. I am afraid that that when we fail to retain our teachers, when not enough priority is given to the development of high quality teacher education programs, initial as well as in service programs, we will not achieve Education for All, not by 2015, not by 2025, we will simply not be able to keep our promise to future generations. Teachers’ shortages cannot be seen separately from teachers’ salaries. I regret to say that in Zimbabwe these salaries have remained very low and below the poverty line, which I understand to be at 498 dollars per month. The lowest paid teacher’s total earnings are grossly inadequate and cannot keep your teachers motivated to deliver quality education. The strong message I convey to you today is that the Government must find a way to increase teachers’ salaries and to improve their conditions of work. May I remind you that the right to education is the right of every child to a qualified teacher, to a motivated teacher, to a teacher who is not compelled to take on a second or even third job to make ends meet. We are acutely aware of the challenges facing the inclusive government, and we know that includes the financial challenges. But as you know the international community has been urged to mobilize in support of Zimbabwe’s recovery. There is an important new move to have the G20 address the need for investment in education as a basis for sustainable recovery of all nations in the 21st century. Even the IMF has come out strongly in favor of investment in education. And at long last, the international community is also starting to recognize that investing in education means investing in qualified teachers. This is the message that I will be taking to the G20 Employment and Labour Ministers when they meet in Washington next week. Yes, at last, there is recognition that we must achieve not only Education for All, but Quality Education for All, and that means investing in quality teachers. UNESCO and ILO have just come out with a major report – the CEART report – saying the same thing. Even the World Bank is reconsidering its policies. The time has come to end policies that favor employing unqualified teachers. And to end policies that depend on parents’ input. The parents should never be expected to “top up” teachers’ salaries with so called “incentives”. We know that leads to gross inequality, especially between urban and rural schools. And this is not acceptable. So my message to the public authorities in Zimbabwe is this. Lift your sights! Go for free, compulsory quality education for all with qualified teachers. And do not hesitate to push the case for that to the international community. Education International will support you. But not only EI. The major NGOs in the world today, the major companies in the world today, the leading decision-makers, all recognize that this is the future. INVEST IN YOUR TEACHERS! But, please, do not bow down to unreasonable conditions which are sometimes attached to foreign aid and loans. Remain firmly in the driver’s seat. Actively engage your national organizations. All too often, our members in the developing world wonder whether the national education agenda is set by their education ministries or by agencies like the World Bank and UNICEF . Colleagues, we are only five years away from 2015. Will there be a school and a qualified teacher for every single child born today when it will reach the age of five in 2015. I doubt it. We are not at all on track. Sure, some progress has been made since Dakar in 2000. But the enrollment statistics, no matter how impressive, are not giving the full story. Education, as our political leaders sometimes seem to overlook, is more than just bringing as many children as possible in a room and call it a classroom. We are facing serious quality deficits. And a main factor, of course, is education funding. There is a strong case for a new global architecture to help structure and mobilize international support for education Today a substantial part of EFA funding is, as you know, coordinated by the Fast Track Initiative. At the present time the World Bank is the default agency for delivering FTI finances - but its systems are cumbersome and complicated. We should consider alternative channels, including non government and civil society organisations, other bilateral donors, UN agencies and partnerships with the private sector in situations where this makes more sense than going through the Bank. National and local governments should be able to choose whatever agency is best placed to deliver needed finances effectively. One of the critical objectives in delivery of finance must be getting the right balance of overall coherence (for example, ensuring that all countries are treated equitably) and on the ground flexibility. That is where a Global Fund for Education – as the United States government has proposed to establish - could play an important role – over and above the necessary scaling up of resources. Regarding capital investment, local communities can do much with some external support. An example is the building of schools in cocoa-farming communities in Ghana, which is in turn connected to an industry/civil society initiative to assist families to end child labour on cocoa bean farms. Schools are built with the active engagement of the local communities. We believe the pilot projects in Ghana demonstrate the success of a community based approach with union involvement. The Initiative is now working also in Cote D’Ivoire, and we want these companies to keep their promise to build on the work in Ghana to extend the programme not only to other countries in Africa Colleagues, I believe that your Government would be wise to take to heart the recommendations that you have made in your report on “The Impact of the Economic Meltdown on the Education System of Zimbabwe”. Suffice it to say that Education International fully supports your conclusions regarding the most urgent measures to be taken. And I was particularly struck by the advice, Madam President, you are giving in your foreword. “This is no time for quibbling or finger pointing, because our house is on fire”. I take it that your advice is directed both to the political leadership of your country and to the Zimbabwean teaching profession as a whole. The important role teachers and education unions can play in democratic development and nation building should not be underestimated. Not only as a group of employees engaging in social dialogue, but also as professional educators, as the intellectual spearhead of nations. We call on the government of your nation to listen carefully to the teachers of Zimbabwe. As the Committee of Experts of the ILO and UNESCO has pointed out so clearly, the way to get that input from teachers is through the organized teaching profession. EI supports Freedom of Association, which implies that we recognize the right of teachers to establish education unions. When there are education unions already in existence, in Zimbabwe as well as in other countries, it can happen that new teachers' organizations emerge and compete with the existing ones. This is not shocking, for it is the expression of Freedom of Association. We are nevertheless very concerned that division and fragmentation of the teachers' movement could and often does undermine efforts to achieve quality education for all and better conditions for teachers. At the very least those organizations must work together on common goals they have identified, and they must safeguard against the employers – including government agencies - taking advantage of divisions between them. We also notice with concern, instances in some countries of the establishment of education unions not to promote, first and foremost, the interests of teachers and quality education, but to serve as instruments in support of political parties. To avoid any misunderstanding, it should be clear that in democratic societies, education unions have the freedom, no, have the responsibility, to engage actively in political debates, certainly when these debates concern the education sector. If necessary, they may support political candidates or parties which share their views. This happens all the time in many democratic societies. But education unions which serve as branches of particular political parties, openly or covertly, are challenging the principles of what we call free trade unionism. The EI Constitution clearly states criteria for Membership which include that the applicant organization “is self-governing and not under the control of any political party, government and ideological or religious grouping”. In other words, a distinction should be made between supporting political parties per se, and supporting the policies of these parties that we believe will advance the cause of education. Even more serious is the emergence of education unions actually instigated by the public authorities. This can be particularly grave in countries with a dues check-off system, where governments are able to simply close the tap on the independent union they cannot get along with, and transfer the entire membership to their own, new organization, literally leaving the independent union to bleed to death. This kind of membership hi-jack is what we have experienced in Ethiopia. The government did not even bother changing the name of the new organization. What the Ethiopian experience has taught us is that a check-off system, no matter how attractive it may appear, may only work well in a democratically governed society, with safeguards against corruption and government interference in the internal democratic processes of unions. Having said this, let me stress our satisfaction over recent efforts made by yourselves and the PTUZ to identify your common goals and to work together in the interests of teachers and education in Zimbabwe. I am aware that it is difficult for everybody to put aside the tensions and the conflicts of the past and to march together towards a better future. At this point I should stress that in Education International we have consistently rejected the portrayal of our member organizations in Zimbabwe as pro- or anti-government. We have also consistently advocated the return to democratic rule in your country, providing and coordinating assistance to all our active affiliates whether through professional development programs, such as our EFAIDS project, trade union education, or legal assistance. In the past few years we have also and repeatedly warned your government that it was not operating within the framework of the international labour standards. But we are confident that the new inclusive government will be able to get Zimbabwe’s house in order. While respecting national decisions, Education International believes in promoting teacher unity. It was the basis of the creation of our International in 1993 – with the theme “Teachers united, ready for change” - and events have shown how right we were to seek international unity at that time. It is articulated in our constitution. Unity was the theme of our last World Congress: “Educators joining together for quality education and social justice.” As our then President, Thulas Nxesi, pointed out, his own national organization – SADTU – was launched in 1990 as a national non-racial teachers’ union, just as talks began on creating a new international organization. And as Thulas said, speaking from his own experience of rising above the divisions of the past: ‘unity is never easy. Unity – as we know – is hard work’. Building unity while respecting diversity – again a principle enshrined in the EI constitution – is a work in progress in many countries, in the North as much as in the South. But that unity must ultimately come from the wishes of the members. It can be promoted. It must never be imposed. If I may now address the government representatives, who it is pleasing to see present at such a senior level on the occasion of the Annual Conference, I would underline the importance of dialogue based on mutual respect and a clear understanding of the respective roles of governments and unions. This requires in particular that governments honour the independence of teachers' organizations. The principles of constructive social dialogue are well-defined, in the ILO/UNESCO Recommendation on the Status of the Teaching Profession, and in ILO Conventions. Although Zimbabwe has ratified ILO Conventions 87 and 98, members of the Public Service, including teachers, do not have full labour and collective bargaining rights. The Labour Act (which is fairly progressive) does not cover or apply to the Public sector. The Public Service Act does not conform to international labour standards and ILO Conventions. The current consultation arrangement based on a statutory instrument derived from the Public Service Act is not sufficient. We have discussed these matter with our colleagues in Public Services International, and both Global Unions, EI and PSI, call upon the government to respect international labour standards and to ensure that there is one labour law in the country governing all workers, whether private or public. There is much work to be done through constructive, effective dialogue. One of the problems which governments and unions must confront together is that of Violence against teachers. EI stresses the need to protect teachers. As the country embarks upon its vital national healing process, teachers and education are part of the solution. Every 5 October we celebrate World Teachers’ Day, and together with our partners – the international agencies - we are considering that the theme this year would focus on the need to overcome violence against teachers and schools. EI calls on governments everywhere to work with unions for schools to be safe sanctuaries. Another critical issue is the prevention of HIV/AIDS. I commend ZIMTA for succeeding to implement our EFAIDS programme last year and before as planned, despite the difficult circumstances; for creating – with PTUZ - the positive teachers’ network; for your important work on Gender Safe schools and other gender issues. We also appreciate the fact that ZIMTA chairs the Education Coalition of Zimbabwe (ECOZI) and is a member of the Education Cluster Group chaired by UNICEF, consistently promoting quality education. We also hope that you will work with the EI Regional Office to give new life to the Southern Africa Teachers’ Organisation – SATO. Colleagues, now more than ever is the time for the educators of Africa to reaffirm the potential of Africa to build a new future for its citizens through the power of education. You can show the way forward, you can build the future through education, for Zimbabwe, for Africa, and for the world. As we know, the key to achieving our targets is mobilization – joining our global advocacy with national and local action. We must act in every nation, to mobilize public opinion in support of our goals – as we will do with our Global Campaign for Eduction partners during Global Action Week, in one week’s time. As I said at the beginning: these are dramatic times. Let me conclude by saying that these times will also clearly show the important difference the trade union movement will be able to make, both nationally and internationally. Given the global character of the challenges facing us, International trade union action is more important than ever. ZIMTA is one of those national teachers organizations that has very well understood this. I commend your organization, and your leadership for your active involvement in the international teachers movement. Colleagues, education unions today have a special role as we bring together unionists committed to democracy and social justice, and educators committed to giving hope to new generations of children and young people. It is hard to imagine a more demanding set of challenges than those. But by linking our global advocacy with your national mobilization, we can show that we can rise together to the occasion. That conviction – that we can make a difference – must drive us forward. Quality public education and solidarity are powerful weapons. Solidarity between nations, solidarity between trade unions, solidarity between people. And quality education for everybody. That is the challenge before EI globally, and each member union nationally. That is the challenge before ZIMTA today. We count on you, like you can continue counting on Education International. Thank you.