Asia-Pacific: Living and working conditions of educators severely impacted by the pandemic

published 3 December 2021 updated 7 December 2021

The stress and increased workload imposed on educators throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and their concerns about the future of their work were highlighted during the regional webinar organised by the Education International Asia-Pacific (EIAP) office in partnership with the International Labour Organization (ILO) Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Findings of the EIAP–ILO Report on “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Education and Teaching in Asia-Pacific: Future of Work in Education” were presented to participants.

Educators and their unions to define the new normal in the education sector

Greeting participants, Education International President, Susan Hopgood, gave overview of the impact of the pandemic on education workers in Asia-Pacific.

“This workshop is proof that educators and their unions are making do with what we have and what we can do under the worst circumstances yet in recent memory,” she stressed.

Hopgood also reminded that recent research by Education International, “The Global Report on the Status of Teachers 2021”, which surveyed education union leaders in 94 countries, “has found little to no structural improvements in terms of investment in public education and support for educators.”

Insisting that “we cannot let the pandemic define the new normal in our sector,” she said that “a new normal of greater investment in educators, of decent working conditions, of resilient infrastructure for teaching and learning is ours for the taking”.

A solid basis for convening social dialogue among trade unions, employers, and education authorities

“Teacher job satisfaction and their ability to impart knowledge is vital to effectively educating the young generation who will build tomorrow’s world. However, traditional teaching has been seriously challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Panudda Boonpala, Deputy Regional Director of the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, also acknowledged.

Among the major findings of the EIAP-ILO survey, she mentioned the fact that more than 75% of respondents expressed their dissatisfaction with the nature and quality of their work during the pandemic “is significant”.

Adding that ILO strongly stresses the importance of skills development and lifelong learning for all, she was adamant that “the survey report serves as a solid basis for convening social dialogue among trade unions, employers and education authorities to discuss innovative policies to shape the education system, as well as the needs of teachers in the post-recovery era”.

ILO is firmly committed to promoting the rights and welfare of teachers, she ensured. “And we greatly value our collaboration with Education International to ensure decent work in the education and teaching sector.”

The quality of teaching and wellbeing affected by the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Meera Chandran of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in India presented findings of the EIAP-ILO study, “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Education and Teaching in Asia-Pacific: Future of Work in Education”.

The study in particular shows: 76.9% school closures, 2.8% decrease in regular full-time employment, 16% change in terms and conditions of employment.

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on teachers is also evident, as the study highlights that 23.2% of teachers in Asia-Pacific who responded to the survey are worried about losing jobs, with21.8% experiencing a reduction in their compensation and for 54.6% an increase in spending on teaching devices and materials.

The quality of teaching and wellbeing has also been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and only 25.4% of respondents in the study said they are well-prepared for the future of work post-pandemic.

Concerning support in their online/remote mode of work, teachers recognised that “being part of a union allowed to have a strong organised presence and to collectively raise issues with concerned authorities”.

EIAP-ILO study recommendations

The study conducted by Dr. Chandran, Dr. Poonam Sharma and Emaya Kannamma made the following recommendations:

  1. Access to digital devices for work
  2. Better pay and health insurance
  3. Professional development in digital technology
  4. Recognition of teacher communities
  5. Recognition for teachers’ work
  6. Consultations in policy and programme outreach

Education union leaders then shared their reflections on this research on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education and teaching.

Hom Kumar Thapa, President of the Institutional School Teachers’ Union of Nepal, Monika Sharma, Vice President of the Women’s Network of the All-India Primary Teachers’ Federation, Raymond Basilio, Secretary General of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers in the Philippines, and Angelo Gavrielatos, President of the New South Wales Teachers Federation in Australia took the floor.

Financing education for a positive school climate

Reflecting on the findings, recommendations, and the future of work in education, Jenelle Babb, Regional Advisor for Education for Health and Wellbeing at the UNESCO office in Bangkok, highlighted three key imperatives:

  1. Ensuring teachers’ wellbeing
  2. Paying attention to the quality of school environment, aiming for teachers to feel trusted and supported and to achieve a positive school climate. There is a need for financing for effective teaching quality.
  3. Guaranteeing a teaching that is valued and avoid stress on teachers, i.e., fighting precarious work or supporting equity and gender equality.

Participants of the regional webinar on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on teaching and education were then divided into three groups to discuss the following issues: terms and conditions, professional development, and wellbeing.

ILO Regional Specialist in Workers' Education Pong-sul Ahn also recognised that “education is the best pathfinder for changing the life of the younger generation.”

In his closing remarks for the webinar, Education International General Secretary David Edwards stressed that “the regional study we launched and reviewed today is testament to our willingness to take a long hard look at how teachers are faring, what challenges they are facing, and how they are being supported, if at all.”

Governments must put the health of educators and learners front and centre

Warning that “we cannot keep going on like this, crippled by severely inadequate funding. Policymakers and public officials must move taxpayers’ money from revenue-seeking ventures to where it is immediately, desperately, needed the most,” Edwards noted that, as countries are starting to reopen schools, governments must work “to put the health of educators and learners front and centre in preparations for this transition”. For one thing, he said, teachers and education support personnel deserve social protection.

Edwards added that “another aspect of the job that we can no longer just overlook is technology. But, in the era of COVID-19, we were caught unawares, so technology happened to us. It should be the other way around.”

For him, “if governments were really serious about improving our lot, they should work to build an environment of wellbeing, not of debilitating stress and deteriorating work conditions.”

Calls for a stronger social contract between educators and governments

Insisting that Education International and its affiliates will continue to form networks of care and structures of support for teachers, locally and cross-regionally, he said that “we rely on one another to develop, collaborate, and share best practices and ideas, especially in an unfamiliar digital setting”.

The Education International’s leader went on to underline: “We will rally around our same calls for a stronger social contract between educators and governments. We will fight for our seat at the table.”

Teacher unions, as always, will insist on meaningful change just as policymakers are wont to push back, dismiss our demands, and resort to short-termism, market fundamentalism, and anti-democratic agenda, he also explained.

“Many years from now, when future historians look back on the impact of the pandemic on our sector, it should be our conscious decisions that matter. It should be our principled struggles that define this dark chapter of our history. Our members are engaged and ready to call out business-as-usual thinking, which got us exactly to this crisis. We will not let their counterfactual excuses go unchallenged,” Edwards concluded.