A code of professional ethics is the cornerstone of quality teaching that lays the foundation of mutual trust between educators and students, and frames educators’ professional duty of care towards their students. As such, educators’ professional codes of ethics are a powerful tool that can frame and support the efforts of educators, education support personnel, their unions and organisations to eradicate gender-based violence in and around schools and other educational settings.
The usefulness, adequacy or applicability of a professional code of ethics for educators is often a contentious issue, with forceful arguments on both sides. A recently launched report shows a decline in teacher status in 55 countries, with a perception amongst the 73 education unions surveyed that the status of the profession is far from ideal. Add to this state of affairs the climate of professionalism that characterises much of the contemporary labour market and few educators would deny that a highly developed a code of ethics ‘can only assist in the overall growth and enhancement of the profession’.
Education International (EI) is a federation of 396 teachers’ and education support personnel associations and unions in 171 countries and territories. EI represents some 32.5 million educators and support professionals at all levels, from early childhood to tertiary education.
The EI Declaration on Professional Ethics was adopted at the 3rd EI World Congress in 2001, and updated at the 4th EI World Congress in 2004. It is complementary to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998) and draws on the UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers (1966) and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948).
The Preamble of the Declaration states that raising the consciousness of educators and support personnel ‘may contribute to increasing job satisfaction among teachers and education personnel, to enhancing their status and self-esteem, and to increasing respect for the profession in society’.
But this is not the only role that a professional code of ethics can play.
Article 2 of the EI Declaration outlines educators’ commitment to students, stipulating, inter alia, that education personnel shall ‘maintain professional relations with students; safeguard and promote the interests and well-being of students and make every effort to protect students from bullying and from physical or psychological abuse; take all possible steps to safeguard students from sexual abuse; exercise due care, diligence and confidentiality in all matters affecting the welfare of their students’, assist students to develop a set of values consistent with international human rights standards; exercise authority with justice and compassion; (and) ensure that the privileged relationship between teacher and student is not exploited in any way…’
School-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) affects millions of children worldwide each year, and is a critical barrier to the right to education that has serious physical and psychological health implications for students that are the victims of such violence. Although both girls and boys can be targets of SRGBV, girls are the most vulnerable. SRGBV is not a matter of individual pain and suffering, however: violence in and around educational settings leads to the deterioration of the learning environment as a whole.
Educators, schools and education systems play a fundamental role in transforming practices, attitudes and values in society, and are an important force for protection and change. As the voice of educators and education support personnel worldwide, the member organisations of Education International are key actors in tackling violence in and around schools and other educational settings.
The EI Declaration on Professional Ethics represents the core values of the teaching profession itself. As a document drafted by the teaching profession worldwide, the Declaration sets out fundamental values that the worldwide teaching community recognises as core components of its professional ethics. Those values are fundamentally non-violent, and based on the human rights of all those in the teaching and learning environment.
A professional code of ethics is, therefore, a powerful potential tool that can be used by education unions in their efforts to combat gender-based violence in and around educational settings. Clearly, adopting and endorsing a code of ethics is not enough. This is only a useful tool as long as it is actively implemented, applied and enforced, as necessary.