Education International (EI) is celebrating 25 years of existence; 25 years of advocacy for education and the teaching profession. A long journey peppered with successes, wins and persistent challenges. EI and its affiliated organisations have to contend with capital and capitalists more concerned with their own profits than with the education of children. Faced with these powerful and determined lobbies, the future on the world’s education systems and of the teaching profession are threatened. EI’s fight, and its clear positions in all forums with the community of donors, including the Global Partnership for Education, for adequate funding of education and against the commercialisation of education runs counter to these strong corporate forces.
Those challenges and their consequences, in particular the lacklustre environment for teachers/learning and teaching activities, the shortage of teaching tools and materials, and the lack of training/qualifications for teachers among others, effects teacher unions and teacher activists. Teachers with little or no training, confronted with career- and survival-related issues, are often not motivated and are difficult to mobilise in trade unions. They do not always see trade unions as able to effectively influence decision-makers in order to meet their needs. How, then, can teachers and education be offered better prospects for the future? How can the significant needs, issues and challenges related to education be met and addressed? How can better understanding or acceptance of schools’ and teachers’ roles in the process of social transformation be fostered?
In my country, Senegal, as in some other African countries especially French-speaking ones, fragmentation has dealt a heavy blow to the teacher trade union movement which has become weak and unable to attract and mobilise teachers, and unable to act in a concerted and strategic manner with regard to government authorities in order to promote effective educational systems. We will have to work to achieve unity, correct organisational weaknesses, strengthen the trade union movement and become strong.
Remaining true to ourselves, i.e. “being trade unionists” and becoming strong, requires re-affirming values and following the principles that are the foundation of trade unionism: independence, autonomy, democracy, and solidarity.
Strength means trade union unity. It is a central challenge that must be met. Being united will make us stronger and better able to reach our full organisational potential and meet the many challenges that plague the quality of education and schooling for all children, without exception. EI’s support in countries such as Uganda with the construction of a strong united trade union, UNATU, should be welcomed, as should the ongoing process, again with EI’s support, in certain French-speaking countries such as Ivory Coast, Benin and Senegal where the USEQ, the Union Syndicale pour une Education de Qualité (trade union for quality education is a framework bringing together EI’s affiliates. In Senegal, this union coalition has become a reality with statutes and an application for official recognition by the government of Senegal.
The implementation of SDG4 and national action to achieve those targets requires strong mobilisation of all stakeholders, inspired on the demonstrations organised as part of EI’s campaign “United for quality education”, which led to Education being a stand-alone goal at when the SDG 2030 Agenda was adopted.
Meeting trade union concerns, the Agenda considers education as a human right and a public asset.
Remaining true to ourselves; fervent trade unionists inspired by trade union values and acting on them must be our credo. Building on our experience, individually and collectively, to fight austerity measures and privatisation and commodification of education is imperative. Our joint action in the “global response” campaign has been extremely successful in Uganda against Bridge International Academies, and is continuing in Kenya and Liberia.
The combination of commitment to trade union values, mobilisation, cooperation and building alliances will make it possible to achieve the goal of Quality Public Education for all.
On 26 January 1993, Education International was founded through the merger of the International Federation of Free Teachers’ Unions (IFFTU) and the World Organisation of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP). On the occasion of the 25th anniversary, a special series of blogs #EI25, will be published throughout the year, bringing together voices and thoughts of unionists, education activists, partner organisations and friends, reflecting on past struggles and accomplishments, from which the organisation has drawn strength and inspiration to address current and future challenges facing education and the teaching profession. If you want to contribute to the series, please write to [email protected].
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.