At the 6th Biennial Conference of the Education International's Arab Countries Cross-Regional Structure (EI ACCRS), around 80 education unionists representing 28 organisations in 18 countries debated on "Transforming unions to transform education - Where are we? What role for education unions? What’s next?".
The conference, held from 14-15 December, in Amman, Jordan, was preceded by pre-conference events, including the Equity Caucus, a session on Education in Emergencies in the Arab region and the Higher Education Caucus.
Investment in education systems and educators to fight inequality and ensure democracy
Opening the conference, EI President Susan Hopgood stated that during “the COVID-19 pandemic, closings and the uneven and limited availability of distance learning (only 48 per cent of students in the region have access to the internet at home) deepened inequalities and injustice”.
She also noted that few of the funds available for pandemic relief were used to support education – globally 3 per cent and less in Arab countries. “The weakening or collapse of education systems has had a devastating impact on the teaching profession. The neglect of education and the impact of crises that have caused so much suffering and injustice, have made saving public education and supporting its professionals more urgent than ever,” she stressed.
For her, “it is true that many governments have real finance problems. In many cases, it is hard to finance not only education, but also other vital areas like health care, housing, transportation, and infrastructure. That means that there needs to be an alternative to competition on which budget lines get the biggest cuts. The most significant remedy would be tax justice. History has shown that the most successful public-private partnerships have been corporations paying taxes: adding to public revenue rather than profiting from it.”
“Inequality is destroying communities and weakening democracy. Peace is threatened by authoritarians and conflicts are growing rather than being resolved,” she added and stressed that the survival of life on this planet is not only a pre-occupation of citizens, but also “a source of frustration as governments fail to take measures to reduce the damage of carbon emissions”.
Hopgood also announced that Education International will launch a major campaign on the International Day of Education, the 24th of January. “This campaign will support member organisations in their fights against austerity programmes and budget cuts and build a consensus for fundamental changes; a transformation based on improving the environment for professional teachers.”
Educators are essential to transforming education and mitigating the global education crisis
Keynote speaker Tamimi Darwazeh Abeer, Director of capacity building and learning at the Arab Campaign for Education and Alternate Board Member of the Global Partnership for Education, expressed support for the EI’s upcoming campaign aiming to Increase public spending on education: “We call on all national and international parties and governments, including Arab teachers unions, to enhance joint action, coordination and true cooperation on the basis of respect, appreciation and recognition of the right of our peoples and societies to live in dignity, prosperity and peace, to ensure quality, equitable and inclusive education for all and to enhance learning opportunities throughout life for all, as enshrined in the UN sustainable development goal (SDG) 4.”
She also underlined: “One thing is clear: educators are essential to transforming education and mitigating the global education crisis. An investment in teachers is an investment in the future and is a prerequisite for the transformative power of education.”
She added that the Arab Campaign for Education for All is preparing to launch a regional advocacy campaign to demand that governments provide adequate and sustainable financing that meets the basic and emerging needs of the education sector.
Manal Hdaife, Chairperson of the EI ACCRS and leader of the Public Primary School Teachers’ League in Lebanon, and EI’s Dalila El Barhmi presented the regional report.
The report notes that the public debt increased in most Arab countries while inequality is increasing and public education is decreasing. Member organisations pressured governments to strengthen efforts to achieve SDG 4 and called for increased funding for education.
It also insists that teachers in the Arab region face unprecedented challenges as they strive to provide education to millions of children affected by conflict and poverty. Drawing from lessons learnt is critical to build more resilient education systems with teachers at the center.
The report further stresses that member organisations in Arab countries are experiencing poor working conditions with bad educational environments. There is a digital divide, a lack of infrastructure, and half of the students do not have access to Internet for their education.
It also clearly shows that existing education policies in Arab countries are clearly inadequate to tackle climate change crises and equip students with the knowledge, skills and attitude to sustain our planet. Arab educators are ready to join the EI Teach For the Planet campaign.
On Day 2 of the EI ACCRS Conference, member organisations discussed top priorities for education in the Arab region.
On sustainable investment to transform education, delegates condemned the push towards privatisation of the education sector, and called on governments to improve their budgets and on international organisations for financial support and advice regarding curricula.
They also called on governments to cooperate and respect the right to peaceful strikes without cutting salaries and wages, and on unions to put pressure on governments to protect teachers' rights.
“Two thirds of low income countries have drastically cut their budgets on education and teachers. This impacts the working conditions of teachers: salaries are low and decreased in real terms, or frozen,” said EI Deputy General secretary Haldis Holst, who went on detailing the three pillars of the next EI campaign:
- Investing in public quality education, investing in the profession
- Confronting, stopping and reversing the path of privatisation and trade in education
- Transforming the narrative for quality public education
ILO supervisory system ensures the full application of international norms on the teaching profession
Taking the floor for the International Labour Organization (ILO), Senior Specialist Lejo Sibbel explained the regular ILO supervisory system which serves to create a dialogue between the ILO and governments to ensure the full application of Conventions and Recommendations in law and in practice.
He also insisted that the Joint ILO/UNESCO Committee of Experts on the Application of the Recommendations concerning Teaching Personnel provide guidance for governments, employers, teacher unions and other stakeholders in crafting effective teacher policies.
Resolution on Transforming unions to transform education
During the conference, delegates adopted a Resolution on Transforming unions to transform education, which urges governments to protect human rights and respect international labour standards and recognise the value of education to sustainable development and to building decent, prosperous, and fair societies. They are asked to participate in and contribute to UN efforts to transform education.
The resolution further calls on governments to fully fund quality, public education, improve the status of teachers and ensure that there is quality teacher training and professional development.
Finally, it reaffirms the commitment of education organisations to free and independent trade unionism.
Key goal: ensuring all boys and girls have access to public quality education for a better future
In her final remarks, EI President Susan Hopgood noted that “The issues and challenges are enormous, but we must not just talk about them, we must work together so we can make changes. We need to ensure that children, boys and girls, have access to public quality education for a better future.”
Congratulating the delegates on being able to talk about key issues in education in Arab countries in terms of what can be done and how to bring change collectively, she highlighted that “transforming unions is a theme a tremendous importance to tackle while getting to the task of transforming education. The next campaign needs to be relevant in your countries and for your members, and we need the unions to translate the message and pass it on.”
Concluding the 6th Biennial Conference of the EI ACCRS, chairperson Manal Hdaife stated: “I invite you to be united, cohesive, unified, on an equal footing, hand in hand, to advance our unions to transform education. We hope that we will be acting according to the responsibility you have entrusted to us, and we will return to our unions with significant lessons and inspirational ideas. Our aspiration and hope that nothing is impossible. We have not lost and will not lose hope.”