Francophonie: education and the trade union movement show their resilience in face of the health crisis

published 9 December 2021 updated 14 December 2021

The theme of the XVIIth meeting of the Comité syndical francophone de l'éducation et de la formation (CSFEF), which brings together the education unions of French-speaking countries, was “Schools as a vehicle for solidarity and development - if countries give themselves the means”. Participants noted that unions have been very active during the COVID-19 pandemic and have continued to look for ways to grow stronger to better support educators and ensure quality education for all.

“The CSFEF has tried to maintain its links with French-speaking brothers and sisters, which has not always been easy. However, fortunately, the trade union movement has remained active despite successive lockdowns,” stressed CSFEF President Jean-Hervé Cohen at the event, held by videoconference from 25 to 26 November.

He also welcomed the fact that the majority of French-speaking unions continued to carry out campaigns to recruit activists.

Adding that “trade unionism is first and foremost being in the field, ensuring the proximity that allows our demands to be in step with the profession”, he recognised the need “be present in the places of information, the written and audio-visual press, but also social networks”.

CSFEF ready to support trade union struggles in the Francophone community

Regretfully, the difficulties repeatedly mentioned by trade unions at previous meetings persist, said Cohen. These difficulties in many Francophone countries include:

  • Lack of funding for education;
  • Contested political regimes;
  • Trade union rights being trampled on (agreements being signed but not respected);
  • Worsening working conditions and pay. This leads to protests and strikes (as is the case in Gabon at the moment) and puts the education of young people at risk.

“We see that the unions are not giving up and continue to fight: the CSFEF will always be at their side to support their struggles,” Cohen insisted.

Digital technology, a tool to be mastered

The participants also tried to draw up an initial assessment of education in a time of pandemic, by looking at the closure of schools and establishments, the health protection of teachers and pupils and the new, “but not always well thought-out or effective, role of digital technology”.

PASEC and the debate on teaching in French from the first year of school

The CSFEF meeting also discussed the report of the analysis of education systems by the conference of francophone education ministers, Programme d'analyse des systèmes éducatifs de la Conférence des ministres de l'Éducation des États et gouvernements de la Francophonie (PASEC), published in December 2020.

Participants emphasised that this survey of student performance and teachers’ skills in sub-Saharan Francophone Africa has important implications for teachers.

For the participants, the early learning of French is a matter of debate and cannot be approached in the same way everywhere, as it depends on the country and its linguistic make-up.

In debating the results of the PASEC survey, the CSFEF member unions, many of which are based in sub-Saharan Africa, showed that they could use the results of government surveys to put forward their demands, which are often common to all countries.

Finally, Cohen recalled that this CSFEF meeting was being held within the framework of the summit of heads of state and government, whose theme is “Connectivity in diversity: digital technology, a vehicle for development and solidarity in the French-speaking world”. This Summit has been postponed to November 2022 in Tunisia, where the CSFEF hopes to hold its next face-to-face meeting.