The John Thompson Fellowship Programme, from Asia to Africa

published 27 January 2023 updated 31 January 2023

Through the John Thompson Fellowship (JTF) Programme, education unionists are given the opportunity to gain direct and valuable information, exchange experiences, ideas, and best practices and foster solidarity among the organisations. Education International, DC partners and education unions have taken stock of successful results in North Asia and launched the programme in East Africa.

A flagship programme in terms of union renewal

Addressing the Development Cooperation (DC) Café focusing on this programme, held on 12 January, Beverley Park, Director of the International and Social Justice Programme within the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) – a DC partner –, reminded participants that John Thompson was Secretary-General of the World Confederation of Organizations of the Teaching Profession from 1970-1981.

She stressed that “he worked tirelessly for international understanding among people, and was an enthusiastic advocate of the teaching profession,” .

She added that the JTF is a “flagship programme in terms of union renewal”, aiming to “strengthen teacher organisations through building the skills and commitment of teacher leaders. Unions are selected because of their expressed interest to Education International’s headquarters and regional offices, and partners come in to support.”

Park also noted that the programme has evolved through the years. As a resource person, she works with and alongside unions in their countries or regions or subregions, co-facilitates, facilitates, and supports.

The programme offers participants the opportunity to:

  • Examine the elements of a well-run union.
  • Reflect on the mission of their organisations.
  • Examine their “reason for being”, to reaffirm their commitment to that cause.
  • Analyse their current level of effectiveness and their capacity.
  • Assist in developing practical leadership and managerial skills that will make Fellows more effective as teacher/union leaders.
  • Help Fellows gain understanding, knowledge, and skills to advocate for their rights and for other educational and social issues.
  • Promote equity and representation within unions.

Its expected results are:

  • A better understanding by unionists following the training programme of the role of the unions and their role in the organisation.
  • Positive impact on the overall governance, management practices, financial resources, service delivery, external relations, sustainability, and gender equity in participating organisations.
  • Active participation of women and other under-represented groups in their organisation.

Study ”Union Renewal in the Education Sector: Prospects for the Asia-Pacific”

Eva Elmstedt Frisk from Sveriges Lärare/Sweden, also a resource person for the JTF Programme, explained that the programme’s starting point is the study “Union Renewal in the Education Sector: Prospects for the Asia-Pacific”. The primary objective of this report is to construct an initial model of ‘union renewal’ or ‘union transformation’ to be considered for further development by selected Education International affiliates in partnership with Education International’s Asia-Pacific Office.

Nicole Calnan of the Australian Education Union (AEU) said that resource people took charge of diverse modules, such as: History, mission and vision; Union renewal; Organising and mobilising; Sustainable financing; Gender equality; or Campaigning and effective messaging.

She also welcomed the fact that many participants to the JTF Programme were present at the Education International Asia-Pacific (EIAP) regional conference.

Education International’s consultant Sagar Nath indicated that, in 1998, the EIAP office came up with a list of unions to support, identified a group of unions in Nepal, India, Indonesia, Fiji, West Samoa, Vanuatu, etc., and invited three top leaders from each union to attend the training, exchange ideas and share experiences.

“The programme evolved from being fundamental, international cooperation work to developing trade unionism in all countries,” he said.

He also underlined: “The EIAP office put emphasis on finding out what the need of the participating organisation is, and we built around the programme that goes to train leaders in building unions with a plan that could be implemented”.

Mentioning that questions had been raised on the programme’s effectiveness and ways money collected for the programme was spent, he noted that “we started to measure progress made by unions and participants after the programme through questionnaires sent every 6 months for 10 years. We kept on tweaking the programme according to needs expressed by unions and participants and according to how – as resource persons – we though the programme could be most effective.”

To conclude, Nath stressed that “the JTF Programme, as we started, was more intensive on knowledge and skills of union leaders. Then it evolved into becoming: Let’s give union leaders an opportunity to sit down and reflect on their own organisations and then strategically plan how to strengthen their unions. The evolution takes place every year to best meet the needs of the participants and JTF becomes very different.”

Moving the JTF Programme forward in East Africa

The Director of the Education International’s Region Africa (EIRAF) office, Dennis Sinyolo, also talked about the launch of the JTF Programme in East Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, from 21-27 November 2022:

“The main reason why we went to East Africa is that last year we carried out a needs assessment. We wanted to find out from member organisations what their developmental needs are. We also did some short training virtually. During that training, we did a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. The results of this assessment indicated that member organisations needed support with capacity building, especially in leadership, weakness in terms of resources, of gender equality, involvement of young people, etc.”

He also recalled that challenges are quite enormous in Africa, including unions’ internal challenges: “This training will help the unions to reflect on their challenges and find solutions in moving the union agenda forward”.

Sinyolo said that the EIRAF office invited unions to select three members (five for local unions), and, among these three members, at least one member who could make decisions, “otherwise the chances to get commitments and things done afterwards would be very slim. We also insisted one of the members should be a woman.”

In terms of resources, the regional office made small adaptations to existing materials, adding new topics following the assessment made previously, i.e. young members, Sustainable Development Goal 4, Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA).

The nine participating African member organisations, Sinyolo said, committed to:

  • Develop a strategic plan.
  • Incorporate young members into union structures.
  • Relaunch and intensify training for school representatives.
  • Set up an online membership data base.
  • Organise capacity building for national leaders.
  • Conduct a gender audit.
  • Review the union’s vision and mission statements.
  • Support National Teachers Union of South Sudan to establish a union office.