Educators must use their power to mobilise their unions, communities, and the world for quality education

published 10 July 2023 updated 12 July 2023

Education International (EI) President Susan Hopgood has formally opened the EI 9th World Congress, the first-ever World Congress held online, where union delegates representing EI member organisations across the globe the world will meet from July 11th–13th around the theme of ‘Growing our unions, elevating our professions, defending democracy.’

A different world congress

“It is hard to believe that when I last addressed World Congress, it was to close our very productive global gathering in person in Bangkok,” Hopgood said. At that time, we set “a very ambitious and focused set of goals. We saw the world as it was and we saw the world that we wanted for ourselves and our students, families communities and nations, and we announced that we were taking the lead.”

Then the COVID pandemic happened, and “none of us had ever imagined a global pandemic outside the realm of science fiction,” Hopgood explained. “The decision to have two World Congresses one year apart was made by the Executive Board in 2021, at a time when COVID issues made it unlikely that delegates could convene in person on the original dates.”

The EI Executive Board decided that the 9th online congress would be limited to only what the EI Constitution requires an ordinary World Congress to decide, which means elections and debates on resolutions will be postponed until the 10th World Congress to be held in person in Buenos Aires next year.

Persistent education professions

Reflecting on the COVID period, Hopgood told delegates that “you can be very proud of the work of Education International over this period. No organisation on the planet convened more remote communications to its members, participated so forcefully at the highest levels of the United Nations or the World Health Organization or developed more timely and relevant interventions in collaboration with member and partner organisations to overcome the effects of this pandemic than did our profession through EI.”

“Colleagues, you were persistent, so we were persistent,” she added.

Noting that “the worst of COVID may be over, but the need for our persistence remains as a different and more chronic sort of emergency lingers”, she mentioned: “The crisis of the public sector; the ability of governments to maintain and advance the common good and the capacity of the people to hold their governments accountable.”

Resource crisis in public education

Hopgood also deplored that the resources necessary for the public sector to meet the fundamental needs of the people are declining, adding that “the numbers are especially discouraging when it comes to education.” Education system resources have fallen in 65 percent of low- and middle-income countries and 33 percent of upper-middle and high-income countries since the start of the pandemic, she stated.

She lamented the fact that hundreds of millions of the most vulnerable children, young people, and adults remain excluded from education; and millions more don’t have learning opportunities because of inadequate environments, untrained teachers, and a lack of educational resources.

"We also know there is a teacher emergency, a shortfall of nearly 70 million teachers worldwide," Hopgood said.

So where is the money? she asked. “In all the old familiar places, starting with debt. Too often as a condition of borrowing from global development authorities or national lenders, states are required to starve the public sector, including defunding education, health, and other public services. By deliberately constraining what is called the ‘teacher wage bill’ global financing agencies block teacher recruitment and salaries, further depleting the corps of professional educators.”

Hopgood underlined that billions of dollars in uncollected taxes prevent responsible investments in the public good and in economies that provide sustainable and broad-based growth.

“There is no lack of resources to fund public education, but a lack of political will to make education the priority the world needs,” she highlighted. “We need to ensure that public financing is directed to where it is needed most – ensuring that every student has a professionally-trained, qualified, and well-supported teacher, in a quality learning environment. Investment in the common good is fundamental to democracy and there is no better investment than quality public education with well-trained and well-compensated teachers.”

UN High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession

Hopgood also reported that for the first time ever, a recently set-up UN High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession will examine the role of teachers and the support they need to do their work, including addressing the global teacher shortage, elevating teacher professionalism and the importance of funding, calling it “a breakthrough”:

“Your message, our message, about teachers is leading the global education dialogue. That they must be supported, valued, and paid their worth; with workloads and working conditions that support mental and physical wellbeing; negotiated salaries competitive with those in comparable professions and an end to the hiring of contract or unqualified teachers.

Funding public education systems improves pay and working conditions and empowers teachers and education support personnel to stay and thrive in the profession they love. It also inspires a new generation to join the professions the world desperately needs.”

She went on to say that quality education requires quality teaching, for all students, in all circumstances, which means employing qualified teachers with the right standards and competences. “It’s more than just having enough teachers. Qualified teachers and education support personnel are at the heart of successful education systems. They must be recognised as key partners for transforming education systems and be involved in policy planning through collaboration between governments and education unions. This means social dialogue mechanisms that ensure the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining must be strengthened.”

She also called on teachers and their unions to raise their voices once again for “a new social contract, to exercise our ability to come together and unite behind a common goal; educate our colleagues; and mobilise our communities to connect the crisis in funding to the sustainable world we want to create.”

Go Public! Fund Education

Presenting EI campaign, Go Public! Fund Education, Hopgood explained that this campaign is “our opportunity to take the lead, to place our profession at the vanguard of real change in our nations and our communities. To make equity and inclusion in access to education a top priority. To guarantee student and teacher safety and wellbeing. To adequately and equitably finance quality, free public education for every student. To bring opportunity and technology together in an equitable way in public education, and to ensure quality climate change education for all.”

Adding that “by growing our unions and elevating our professions, we are building and defending democracy,” she also reasserted that “our values and our principles, represented in more than 400 unions with more than 32 million members in 178 countries, have become essential to maintaining and growing sustainable democratic systems”.

“We understand our power. Our power to mobilise our unions and our communities to engage our governments and hold them accountable to fund the future through quality education,” Hopgood concluded.

Susan Hopgood's full speech is available here

We will be reporting about the 9th EI World Congress on the EI website and on our social media platforms ( #EICongress; Twitter: @eduint; Facebook: Education International; Instagram: eduint). Stay tuned, spread the word and join the conversation!