Union development cooperation put to good use to fight privatisation of education and promote youth involvement in Africa

published 8 February 2023 updated 4 April 2023

The development cooperation (DC) Café held on 27 January presented activities undertaken and planned by Education International’s Africa Region (EIRAF) with member organisations in the region and international DC partners. Two specific projects were highlighted: the Global Response to the Privatisation and Commercialisation in and of Education campaign and the launch of the African Young Educators’ Network.

EIRAF activities centred on EI strategic directions

EIRAF Director Dennis Sinyolo talked about the work priorities for 2023 of his regional office.

Mentioning the challenges and the context in which they are operating, he remarked that “sometimes it can be frustrating, but we just need to stay positive and keep moving”. Key challenges are:

  • Conflicts and coups. According to the NGO Save the Children, one in four African children lives in a conflict zone.
  • Climate change, leading to droughts and floods, famine and displacement.
  • Violation of human and trade union rights, as is the case in Angola, Eswatini, Togo and Kenya.
  • UNESCO showed that sub-Saharan Africa as a region is furthest away from achieving the sustainable development goal 4 related to quality education for all. There are severe teacher shortages. The region needs 15 million new teachers to achieve sustainable development goal 4 (SDG4) by 2030.

However, the EIRAF office does its utmost to work along the EI global strategic directions, Sinyolo stated.

On the education system priority, they carried out a regional assessment of progress on SDG4 and the Continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA) objectives. This will help the regional office to come up with proposals for the post-2025 CESA.

They also sustained and strengthened climate change networks, e.g. reviving and relaunching a climate change network in the Sahel area.

They further advocated for the protection of schools, education institutions, educators and students from attack.

Concerning the status of the teaching profession, the EIRAF office: urged the African Union to adapt, adopt and implement EI Africa’s Social Dialogue Framework; organised a seminar on the Future of the Teaching Profession in Africa; developed an EI Africa policy brief on the future of the teaching profession in the midst of the pandemic and emergencies; contributed to and influenced the development and implementation of continental and sub-regional teacher frameworks; and carried out a study on school leadership.

As far as democracy, human and trade union rights are concerned, colleagues in the EI Africa office go on monitoring violations of human and trade union rights and take urgent action to address them.

Sinyolo stressed that: “In fact, this is one of the most important things that we do - you cannot plan for it. Sitting in a meeting, a message comes from a union leader that says: ‘Our president has been arrested’. If you ask me, as the regional director of EI, what worries you every day, it is the attacks on our members.”

The EIRAF office disseminates information on relevant instruments and mechanisms, e.g. EI trade union manual supporting member organisations to file complaints with the International Labour Organization, UNESCO, the UN Human Rights Council and the African Union Commission on Human and People’s Rights. It also mobilises and encourages member organisations to respond to urgent action appeals.

On gender equity, progress has been made Sinyolo stressed, as EIRAF indicators framework on equity and inclusion have been adopted and launched urging governments to conduct equity audits .

Also, the EI Gender Equality Action Plan was disseminated, and so were the findings of the Africa Women in Education Network (AWEN) study on “”Women’s Participation and Leadership in Education Unions: Investigating Barriers and Identifying Solutions, commissioned to Tracy Constant.

In addition, Sinyolo noted, African education unions advocate for the ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work. - Women’s Round Table will be organised prior to the EI Africa Regional Conference in November 2023.

Most of our DC work is in the area of union renewal. Sinyolo also mentioned that the EIRAF office is planning to:

  • Organise a John Thompson Fellowship programme in West Africa.
  • Organise digital organising workshops for member organisations.
  • Strengthen, support and sustain the Africa Young Educators Network (AYEN) .
  • Launch a subregional young members’ network in Southern Africa (SAYEN).
  • Organise a regional forum for young members prior to the Regional Conference.
  • Organise a regional webinar on research for advocacy.
  • Coordinate and support consortium and partners’ capacity building programmes in several countries.
  • Ensure regular follow-up and encourage member organisations to pay their dues.

Financing public education systems

EIRAF Coordinator Lucy Njura Barimbui focused on education privatization and financing issues.

We want governments to understand that “education is a basic right and a public good”, she said, recalling that many African education unions are committed to the Global Response (GR) to edu-business and the commercialisation of education, “EI’s answer to the exponential expansion of for-profit activities in education globally”.

The GR campaign aims to “expose, halt and reverse the expansion of for profit-making activities by private actors in the education sector and campaign against moves by governments to commercialise education through public-private partnerships (PPPs),” she underlined.

On education financing , Njura Barimbui said that “EI and member organisations advocate for governments to increase education financing to at least 6% of gross domestic product and 20% of public expenditures allocated to education, which most African countries are not meeting”.

Mentioning the findings of a study showing that privatisation and commercialisation are on the rise and take different forms with governments embracing PPPs initiatives, she regretted that GR activities were undermined by the COVID-19 pandemic and insufficient funding to continue the campaign.

However, she welcomed achievements between 2016- 2019, in particular in Kenya, Uganda and Liberia with a call for the closure of for-profit Bridge International Academies or the termination of PPPs.

She stressed the success realised in Ghana, where all EI national member organisations joined GR activities.

In 2023, she added, the EIRAF will: expand GR activities in 5 new countries (Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Malawi and Zambia ); continue with GR advocacy in the initial target countries (Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal); target heads of states and education ministers; and assess the situation of education privatization and financing in Cameroon, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Malawi and Rwanda.

EI affiliates in Africa are invited to join the new Education International campaign, Go Public! Fund Education. This campaign, Njura Barimbui said, is an urgent call for governments to invest in public education, a fundamental human right and public good, and to invest more in teachers, the single most important factor in achieving quality education. The EIRAF office will organise a regional event on this campaign in 2023.

African Young Educators’ Network

EIRAF Coordinator Anais Dayamba explained the setting up of the African Young Educators’ Network (AYEN) and its activities in 2022.

She said that “the launch of our network comes as a response to diverse resolutions”.

The Resolution on Young and Early-Stage Teachers, Researchers and Support Personnel, passed by the 7th World Congress in 2015 and urging EI member organisations “to ensure that the needs and priorities of young and early-stage teachers, researchers and support personnel are reflected in “organisational policies and collective bargaining processes”.

The Resolution on Education Union Renewal: The New Imperative, adopted at the 8th EI World Congress in 2019 and mentioning the need to “work to improve the participation of underrepresented groups in member unions, including a focus on improving access for young people and women to trade union activism and to responsible positions within trade union organisations”.

At regional level, a resolution on young members in education unions was adopted by the 9th EI Africa Regional Conference held in November 2018, calling on EI affiliates in Africa to “revise their constitutions to include youth structures at all levels; adopt a policy on young members; and establish a youth structure led by young members”.

The Africa Young Educators’ Network (AYEN) was launched on 23rd September 2021 at a webinar attended by 40 young members, male and female educators aged 35 or below.

Dayamba cited the objectives of the AYEN, launched on 23rd September 2021, which are to:

  1. Mobilise young educators into a formidable force of SDG4 advocates to accelerate the achievement of quality education for all.
  2. Enable young educator unionists to network with their peers in EI member organisations in the region;
  3. Support the renewal of education unions in the region to enable them to become strong and representative unions, capable of representing teachers and education support personnel effectively; and
  4. Help unions to recruit more young people, to organise and mobilise them for the improvement of the respect of their rights.

EIRAF organised a webinar for the African young members on 27 May 2022, the EIRAF Coordinator said. The aim of this webinar was to create a safe space for young and early-stage teacher unionists to network with their peers in EIRAF member organisations and enhance their understanding of trade union values.

EIRAF also held the African Young Educators’ Network Conference on the Theme: “Young educators united for quality education” in Accra, Ghana, from 25-26 October 2022.

Bringing together 30 young educators from 20 EI member organisations in 17 countries, the main purpose of the conference was to empower them to assess, monitor and advocate for the achievement of quality public education for all in Africa, Dayamba said.

Acknowledging slow progress in achieving quality education for all, the conference participants adopted a statement, which:

  • Reaffirms that education is a basic right and should be accessible to all children irrespective of their social and economic backgrounds.
  • Calls on Governments to invest in the training, recruitment, and professional development of teachers, and ensure decent salaries and working conditions for all.
  • Notes that teachers’ working conditions are children’s learning conditions.
  • Calls on education unions to develop strategies for holding governments to account for the commitments made during the Transforming Education Summit.
  • Calls on education unions and all stakeholders in education to intensify campaigns on the empowerment of the girl child to achieve gender equality and equity.
  • Calls on education unions, civil society organisations, student unions, academics, and all other stakeholders, to engage in a campaign against the privatisation and commercialisation of education.
  • Proposes priorities to be considered for a post-2025 CESA.

Participants in this DC café were excited about the prospect of meeting in person in Brussels from February 28th to March 2nd for the EI DC Network meeting.