COVID-19: Educators call for global solidarity and a human-centred approach to the crisis
The Education International Executive Board held an emergency webinar on Friday, 3 April. During the call, the Executive Board adopted a resolution outlining educators’ key demands to all governments and international institutions dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak.
EXECUTIVE BOARD RESOLUTION ON EI’s RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The Executive Board of Education International, meeting online on 3 April 2020:
- The COVID-19 pandemic has spread to all regions of the world and the rates of infection and the number of deaths are accelerating and overwhelming the healthcare systems of many countries.
- The virus is very contagious and spreads through the air, by touching surfaces with the live virus, and through human contact. Mitigating the number of inflections requires measures that limit such exposure and contact, including social distancing, frequent hand washing and surface cleaning, quarantining, and the use of personal protective equipment for those providing essential services, especially for medical personnel and emergency services, and including school and early childhood care staff;
- In densely populated and least developed countries, where reliable information is often not readily available, millions are endangered by crowding and poverty as well as inadequate health and hygiene facilities;
- Millions of refugees and migrants are vulnerable because their environments do not provide adequate space, hygiene, or healthcare, particularly if they are confined in camps or other cramped facilities;
- This is a global crisis and a danger to anybody anywhere is a danger to everybody everywhere.
- The international community and its institutions have not reached a consensus on how to mobilise solidarity and address this global crisis;
- Too many governments are ill-prepared to deal with an emergency on the scale of COVID–19;
- The drive for quick profits rather than productive investment, has also contributed to social and environmental short-termism, including the erosion of commitment to public services and long-term planning;
- The response to this crisis is hampered by a legacy of neglect and under-funding of health and other public services as well as the lasting impact of austerity programs from the Great Recession that followed the financial crisis of 2008;
- Basic leadership and political will to produce urgently needed personal protective equipment and critical medical devices, particularly for medical personnel and first responders, is often weak or non-existent;
- Lack of trust of government and the media and the wide circulation of disinformation, have exacerbated problems in communicating and understanding vital public health information, especially where there was not enough initial transparency on the real dangers posed by COVID-19;
- Many governments have not effectively addressed violence, beatings, and harassment in racist and “anti-foreigner” attacks perpetrated by extremist groups or individuals;
- Some xenophobes, politicians, wealthy individuals or enterprises have and will continue to exploit this worldwide crisis to fuel fear and hatred and foster division for political advantage or to seek financial gain;
- The education community has been hit hard by COVID-19, with more than 1.5 billion students, 63 million teachers and large numbers of education support personnel affected due to quarantines, lockdowns, and school closures;
- Where schools are still open, including in situations where they need to be available for children of essential, frontline workers and vulnerable children or where nutrition or other services are provided, children and teachers and education support personnel must be provided with adequate personal protective equipment to ensure safe and healthy environments;
- School closures tend to re-enforce inequalities and, although use of digital means in some countries may help during this period, they will often be of less value to disadvantaged, special needs and other students requiring substantial personal attention, thereby increasing the digital divide;
- In most countries, digital classes are still not possible due to the lack of computers, Internet and other online platforms and, in some countries, the exorbitant cost of data which limit access and opportunity;
- Even students with digital availability, competencies, and culture will lose precious interaction and social relationships with teachers, other education personnel and students;
- Alternative modes of education during the crisis are temporary measures that cannot replace the physical presence of students;
- Although teachers and education support personnel in some countries are being paid salaries and receiving benefits during this time, that is not the case in large parts of the world;
- Those engaged in precarious and insecure work, including some contingent staff, contract teachers, researchers and teaching assistants in higher education, early childhood teachers and Education Support Personnel (ESP) have become even more vulnerable with the crisis;
- Often, teachers and ESP are at an elevated risk from COVID-19 due to advanced age or underlying illnesses, which may make it dangerous for them to work with people or, in other ways, have social contact;
- An important criterion for judging progress, during and after the pandemic, is whether work continues and accelerates on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 4 on education, which, with the crisis, have become more important than ever;
- In order to develop good policy, sound research is crucial, by EI and member organisations, but also through influencing content, and helping generate funds for independent research by others.
- Democracy, particularly in times when it may be “put aside” for the crisis, should be vigorously defended by all democratic forces, including trade unions, especially organisations of teachers and other education personnel that play an important role in both schools and communities.
- International and regional organisations to coordinate and cooperate to address this global pandemic with coherent and effective responses;
- Governments to mobilise people and massive resources for assistance on health, including mental health, aid and solidarity at international, regional and national levels;
- International Financial Institutions to make available monetary resources to fight the pandemic and its effects without crippling and/or damaging requirements or onerous conditions;
- Governments to ensure, where schools are open for children of essential workers or vulnerable children or where nutrition or other services are provided, that participating teachers and education support personnel are protected;
- Governments, when dealing with the social and economic impact of the pandemic, to put all workers and their families first, including for salaries, incomes, and social protections;
- Governments to consult education unions about the process of school closures and the operation of reduced and modified education;
- Governments to involve the education professionals and their unions in the policy and process of re-opening schools when the pandemic is over;
- Governments to ensure that resources, both fiscal and human, are available after the pandemic is over to ensure full recovery of their education systems;
- Governments to fill all open teacher positions despite the setback in the education and training of future teachers in a manner that maintains a high level of professional standards and qualifications
- Governments to ensure that, in view of the existing digital divide, students are not disadvantaged in tests and examinations;
- Governments to avoid turning the unfortunate need to rely on digital and other forms of education due to COVID-19 into an excuse or justification to provide inferior education in the future;
- Governments to not ignore or overlook the dangers of digitalisation and artificial intelligence to schools and education as well as to democracy in surveillance, violations of privacy, including of students and families, and other “temporary” practices;
- Governments to make special efforts to protect the health and well-being of all vulnerable groups and persons in the population, including the elderly, refugees, migrants, the poor, disadvantaged, people with disabilities, women, especially women who are engaged in care or are victims of violence, indigenous peoples, and other excluded persons;
- Governments to ensure that the accommodation of refugees and migrants, particularly in detention, in camps or other facilities, are improved to meet health and safety standards;
- Governments and politicians to resist and oppose efforts to exploit fears and panic for personal electoral or partisan gain;
- Politicians and other leaders to ensure that the end of the pandemic does not result in austerity measures that jeopardize public services;
- Governments to recognise that solidarity in the global community is a prerequisite for progress at home as well as for dealing with future crises;
- Governments and employers to recognise that trade unions are an important part of the good functioning of democracy and that social dialogue and tripartism are instrumental in making society work well and resolve conflicts, particularly in times of crisis;
- Governments and employers to protect the rights and livelihoods of educators and support personnel and not use the pandemic as a reason to eliminate or weaken collective bargaining agreements negotiated and in place while, in fact, this crisis demonstrates the importance of collective bargaining and the role it plays supporting workers and their communities;
- Policymakers should put in place the global equivalent of the Marshall Plan in order to create the best possible conditions for an environmentally sound economic recovery in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis.