Young education unionists determined to take the lead on future of quality education

published 24 July 2017 updated 31 July 2017

Young education trade unionists asserted their commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and to hold governments accountable for ensuring quality education for all at a recent workshop in Brussels, Belgium.

During the workshop, fifty education unionists, aged 35 or under, enthusiastically engaged in debates about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and confirmed their commitment to work towards quality education for all in their respective countries by 2030.

“Education International (EI) fought for rights-based, women-focused SDGs,” EI Deputy General Secretary David Edwards reminded participants during the opening of EI Young SDGs Advocates’ workshop. There was a real “battle” for the word “free”, and not “affordable” public quality education, he said, stressing that education unionists from all over the world had to “occupy” SDGs.


Participants agreed that governments have a key responsibility for the achievement of SDGs, especially SDG 4 on quality education for all, and shared issues including:

-          How a lack of qualifications undermines the teaching profession

-          How early childhood education is not only about preparing children for primary education, but to help them get a foundation for long-life learning, and to foster active participation and confidence in themselves

-          Finding ways to retain young and new teachers into the profession

-          The need for civil society to be involved in reviews of SDGs

-          The need for governments to hire young teachers, to prevent them moving to the private education sector


On teacher union renewal, Howard Stevenson, professor at the University of Nottingham, presented the EI-commissioned study, “Organising teachers: developing the power of the profession”. He addressed ways to build young teachers’ engagement in unions, to create and use young people’s energy.

“Union renewal has to be about young members,” he noted, “because you are the future, and this requires organisational transformation”. Adamant that the “unionateness” feeling is central to professional identity, he added that, for union sustainability, there is a need to increase union membership, as well as participation and engagement among young members.And young leaders must learn the history of the trade unions from older leaders, he said.

He also warned about challenges ahead for the teaching profession – for example, de-professionalisation, anti-unionism, privatisation and increased workload.

Four pillars

In her closing speech, EI Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst underlined four words: support, power, patience, and leadership.

“Get an ally in the room, but come back home and be a support to someone else,” she said. “Have a mentor, be a mentor.”  “Keep asking questions and proposing change”, she concluded.

Participants were eager to follow up on their efforts and action plans, create a platform to exchange experiences and network, and hoped for new opportunities to meet, at global and/or national levels.