EI's 9th World Congress: Beyond the pandemic, educators and their unions continue to make a difference worldwide

published 10 July 2023 updated 11 July 2023

Education International (EI) General Secretary, David Edwards presented his Progress Report at the 9th EI World Congress, the first-ever World Congress held online, where union delegates representing EI member organisations around the globe are connecting from July 11th–13th around the theme of ‘Growing our unions, elevating our professions, defending democracy.’

"Almost everything about this 9th World Congress is different than anything we’ve ever experienced and this Progress Report is no exception," Edwards stated as he began his presentation of some of the work, accomplishments, and challenges of Education International in the past few years.

“When I last stood before you to mark our progress together in 2019, it would have been impossible to even imagine the world of today. Our profession has changed, the world has changed. The pandemic that infected the globe and killed up to 20 million also infected every aspect of our work,” Edwards noted.

Acknowledging the friends and colleagues lost to COVID, “because they joined the millions of their colleagues who kept some form of education alive for hundreds of millions of students in the time of pandemic, he insisted that “for all of them we pledge a renewed sense of commitment and a sharpened mission.”

Massive impact of COVID on education systems and unions

"On nearly 200 occasions over these past four years, we gathered virtually online from one-on-ones, to small groups and global conferences, keeping each other close in mission and purpose and raising all of our spirits,'' he said, insisting that “no global organization outside of the primary health sector was more fully engaged in the global response to COVID than our federation. From the early months, EI was called upon to formally advise the World Health Organization.”

The EI leader mentioned that “in 2020 after nearly two years of Covid, two years of isolation in front of our screens, we decided that EI and our member organizations needed to shake things up; to bring as many of us as possible together virtually for a sort of EI snapshot. And so, a 24-hour around the world celebration of solidarity on World Teacher Day.”

In 2022, 700 education unionists came together online for the EI World Women’s Conference, focusing on mobilizing and using women’s power for change. EI is also a lead participant in the UN’s annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. President Susan Hopgood addressed the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, highlighting the critical role of social dialogue and climate education for a just transition to a green economy, Edwards said.

He also highlighted that EI preceded the World Higher Education Conference with a virtual consultation highlighting the need to address diverse issues such as the casualization of academic labor and support personnel or academic freedom, and marked World Education Support Personnel Day, recognizing the contributions ESP make to quality education and to demand that these professional workers have quality working conditions.

Migration and refugees were a special focus for us during this period, from the US border to Turkey, Lebanon and Ukraine, Edwards also agreed.

He added that at the UN Child Labor Conference in South Africa, representatives of governments, employers’ organizations and workers’ organizations renewed our commitment to prevent and eliminate child labor and forced labor.

Edwards reported on the EI delegation that visited Ukraine, and the work of solidarity and support of colleagues there in the midst of a terrible war. He also cited EI's solidarity with members in Myanmar, Afghanistan, Belarus, Eswatini, Uganda, Israel, Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

Never failing solidarity within the global education union movement

“I led a delegation to Turkey to bring solidarity to our members who are providing hope, housing and services for the victims of that terrible earthquake that has taken more than 50,000 lives,” he went on to report.

In Haiti, working with DC partners we established a Solidarity Fund and rallied member organizations globally to help our Haitian member organizations, he also said.

For him, “sometimes, progress is the simple absence of war as in the hard-won ceasefire in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, obtained with the help of constant campaigning of teachers there. Sometimes it is simply a victory for the rule of law as in the defeat of the fascist insurrectionists in Brazil in January or in the victory of a coalition government in Fiji, where unionists were routinely jailed and assaulted by government forces.”

Edwards also highlighted the Teach for the Planet campaign which presented world leaders with "our Climate Manifesto and have since held an unprecedented number of capacity building workshops for member organizations.”

He went on to welcome, that, in 2014 and 2015, EI led the successful campaign to include education in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, alongside such issues as ending poverty and hunger, fighting gender inequality and climate change and others. “For each of the goals, education is the catalyst,” he reasserted.

Go Public! Fund Education

Edwards further explained that “under the banner of EI, the Go Public! Fund Education campaign launched earlier this year is putting a spotlight on education financing, on corporate irresponsibility and on government accountability.”

Our global campaign to fund public education and the teaching profession is a fight for investment in the public sector, a new social contract focused on the value of collecting and deploying the people’s money for the public good, he observed.

How do we make governments responsive? he asked. “We organize. We mobilize. The path to a sustainable future, to our rights as citizens of the world, is the same as our path to union rights. That path is democracy.”

High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession

At Education International’s urging, Edwards also said, the UN announced creation of a High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession to examine the role of teachers and the supports we need to do our work, including addressing the global teacher shortage, elevating teacher professionalism and funding public education systems. For the first time, there is high-level agreement that education is an investment, and the key component of this investment is in teachers, he stressed.

The EI leader was adamant that “a strong public education system is not inevitable. It must be fought for and defended. Here in our 30th year, together, we have built the knowledge, the reputation, the power and the alliances at the highest level to be a force not only for education and sustainable development, but for democracy itself. Thanks to you, we continue to make our influence felt and our leadership stronger.”

“So, I am reporting to you today, the 9th World Congress of Education International, that we are building upon this progress. We continue to make a difference worldwide. We will not stop,” Edwards promised in his conclusion.

The full Progress Report by EI General Secretary 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!