The profound implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in education and the status of teachers globally were at the forefront of discussions during Education International's (EI) 18th annual Research Network (ResNet) meeting. Held virtually on 19 October, the event continued the tradition of fostering global solidarity and research-driven strategies among education unionists worldwide.
A global perspective on teacher status and rights
The morning session featured a presentation by Mark Rahimi and Ben Arnold from Deakin University, Australia. Rahimi and Arnold delved into the findings of the upcoming edition of EI’s triennial report on the Global Status of Teachers and the Teaching Profession, to be launched at EI’s World Congress in July 2024.
Based on an extensive survey of EI member organisations from all regions, the report collects data on various aspects of teacher policy and serves as a reference for unions’ advocacy work. It also provides a basis for EI’s Report to the Committee of Experts on the Application of the Recommendations Concerning Teaching Personnel (CEART).
The 2023 survey's results shed light on several critical areas affecting teachers worldwide.
- Teacher shortages : One of the key findings is the severe teacher shortage across educational levels globally. This deficiency is most pronounced within special education sectors, followed by secondary education, early childhood education, and primary education. The geographical breakdown of the data points to particularly acute shortages in Africa and Europe, underscoring a universal challenge that transcends borders.
- Underlying factors: The survey delved into the reasons behind these shortages, with low salaries, excessive workloads, poor career progression, and a diminished perception of professional status emerging as universal grievances among educators. These factors varied in intensity across regions, hinting at the necessity for region-specific solutions. Notably, in the contexts of Europe, North America, the Caribbean, and the Asia Pacific, career progression deficiencies were especially prominent. In contrast, Latin America highlighted workload, and Africa pointed to the low societal valuation of the teaching profession.
- Perception of authorities' response: The responses from the survey participants painted a picture of educational authorities' perceived apathy or ineffective strategies in addressing these shortages. There was a global sense of dissatisfaction among educators regarding the efforts—or lack thereof—by authorities to promote teaching as a high-status career or to engage in meaningful strategies to retain teaching professionals. This sentiment was especially strong regarding authorities’ lack of interest in listening to teacher organisations on why teachers leave the profession.
- Gender disparities: An interesting dimension that the survey explored was the highly gendered nature of the teaching profession. Questions arose about whether this aspect played a role in the challenges faced, particularly concerning remuneration and professional status. The discussion hinted at a deeper, systemic issue that needed addressing within the educational ecosystem.
- The need for targeted, informed solutions: The survey presentation concluded with a call to action for the development of strategies informed by the rich, ground-level data provided by educators themselves. These strategies would not only address the symptoms, such as shortages, but also the underlying systemic issues that the educational sector grapples with. The need for nuanced, context-specific policies and initiatives was clear, pointing to a way forward defined by collaborative, informed, and decisive action.
Navigating AI in education
The afternoon focused on technology, with Dr. Wayne Holmes from University College London, UK, presenting the new research commissioned by EI: " Unintended consequences of Artificial Intelligence and education”. Holmes’ comprehensive analysis debunks common misconceptions about AI, emphasising that these tools should complement the work of educators, not replace them. The report advocates for Ethics by Design in AI tools, a concept underlining transparency, privacy, fairness, and human agency.
Furthermore, the report proposes the following strategic recommendations for integrating AI into education systems ethically and effectively:
- Democratic oversight: Establish comprehensive regulations, ensuring AI adherence to human rights standards, and involve various stakeholders in decision-making processes.
- Transparency in AI: Implement mechanisms that make AI systems' operations understandable to users, fostering trust and accountability.
- Safeguarding data: Enforce robust data privacy measures to protect sensitive information of educators and students alike.
- Teacher autonomy: Ensure AI supports educators' instructional strategies, not replace them, affirming the professional discretion of teachers.
- Training for educators: Advocate for thorough professional development programmes that enable educators to harness AI effectively in their teaching practices.
- Equity and inclusivity: Mandate fairness in AI tools by eliminating biases and facilitating equal access for all students, inclusive of those with disabilities.
- Continuous assessment: Adopt regular monitoring and evaluation of AI's educational impact, refining its application for better outcomes.
- Global collaboration: Encourage international cooperation for sharing insights, research, and effective practices concerning AI in education.
The presentation was followed by a discussion where ResNet members explored the ethical questions at the intersection of AI and education. EI members emphasised the imperative need for educators' voices to guide AI integration into classrooms, ensuring alignment with educational values and objectives.
The discussion touched on a wide range of issues, from concerns over tech sector unionisation to AI's role in standardising education. These reflections, from diverse geographical and professional backgrounds, underscored the need for a united front in advocating for education policies that respect the teaching profession and prioritise the right to education.
Advocacy brief on teachers and technology
During the last segment of the meeting, Manos Antoninis, Director of the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report, delivered an important presentation on the findings of the 2023 GEM report: Technology in education: A tool on whose terms? Antoninis stressed the need for technology that resonates with the pedagogical foundations of education, cautioning against solutions that disregard the role of educators. The presentation outlined the pitfalls of a one-size-fits-all approach to EdTech, advocating instead for technology that is responsive to the diverse and dynamic needs of both educators and learners.
The GEM Report and EI have recently published a new advocacy brief on the main findings of the 2023 GEM Report, highlighting the nuanced challenges and opportunities presented by technology in education, and also offering tangible recommendations for teachers and education support personnel, emphasising the human aspect in technology integration.
Go Public! Moving forward with collective resolve
The 18th EI ResNet Meeting concluded on a note of global solidarity. Participants reaffirmed Education International's commitment to forge the way forward with collective responsibility, advocating for educational environments where technology meets ethical pedagogy, and technological advancements serve the fundamental right to education.