“This has been one of the more pivotal periods in our history. Influenced and essentially guided by Education International (EI), the United Nations (UN) is in the process of urging its member states to act decisively to address the global education crisis. And to do this specifically by elevating and transforming the role and status of the teaching profession.” With these words, EI General Secretary David Edwards started his progress report during the 64th EI Executive Board meeting held from November 13th-16th in Brussels, Belgium.
EI General Secretary’s progress report
Stressing work done by UN High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession, where EI and teacher unions are represented, he explained that this body agreed that governments worldwide must act decisively to address the global education crisis by elevating and transforming the role, status, and future of the teaching profession.
The Panel is now finalising a set of recommendations which are forecasted to be launched early next year.
Go Public! Fund Education campaign
He went on to highlight that the EI “Go Public! Fund Education” campaign is reaching all regions of the world, focusing on raising awareness and engagement on the importance of investing in the profession and fully funding public education by engaging members, research, communications, and capacity building.
About the 2023 International Barometer on the well-being of Education Staff (I-BEST) launched in October, by EI and its partners – the Education and Solidarity Network and UNESCO, he explained that this report draws from the experience of over 26,000 teachers, school principals and education support personnel across multiple territories. Despite the challenges and deteriorating working conditions, most of the respondents to the survey would choose teaching again as a career. The survey pointed out that education professionals feel undervalued and report overwhelming workload, challenging work environments, a lack of recognition and limited career advancement opportunities.
On human and trade union rights, Edwards underlined that EI and its affiliates denounced the terrorist attack launched by Hamas against Israeli civilians, and, in the face of escalating violence in the Gaza Strip also called upon the Israel War Cabinet to end the suffering and respect the principles of the United Nations Charter and international humanitarian law.
This year, World Teachers’ Day (WTD), October 5th, focused on the ramping and concerning global teacher shortage, Edwards also noted. Joining the WTD celebrations in Delhi, E I President Susan Hopgood addressed Indian education unionists as they successfully concluded their month-long ‘Bharat Yatra’ campaign, demanding the re-instatement of pension benefits for all teachers and government employees.
The EI General Secretary added that EI went on working on development cooperation projects – via DC Cafés focusing on diverse themes –, climate change education, formative assessment practices, LGBT rights, research. EI also opened a new Asia-Pacific regional office in Bangkok, Thailand.
Edwards concluded with “another really exciting development”: The proposal of the Lusophone group of EI member organisations to request from UNESCO that the transactional model of education, the relationships between teachers and students be considered World Heritage.
Progress report for the EI Africa region
It also received a presentation about work undertaken by the EI African region (EIRAF) from EI regional Director Dennis Sinyolo, who underlined that the region faces serious challenges: coups d’état – 7 coups in 3 years –, many teachers lost to COVID-19, climate change, conflicts and ramping violence.
Sinyolo also reminded that UNESCO data shows that Sub-Saharan Africa is furthest away from achieving SDG 4 and that, according to UNICEF, ¼ of all children in the region are in conflict-affected countries.
The education financing and teacher shortage crises – due in no small part to inadequate public investment in education, widespread privatisation and commercialisation of education and the irregular payment of teacher salaries – threaten the achievement of the sustainable development goal 4, regional and national education goals, he insisted.
Despite these challenges, he added, EIRAF continues to intensify advocacy for quality public education for all, to respond to violations of human and trade union rights and to build the capacity of member organisations – fostering South-South cooperation, e.g. the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union supporting the Zambia National Union of Teachers in its efforts to recover from the damaging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the education sector.
Sinyolo went on stressing that the EI Go Public! Fund Education campaign has now been launched in 14 countries in the region and that the Regional Conference, to be held from 19th-24th November in Johannesburg, South Africa, will move the campaign forward.
EIRAF will intensify advocacy with the African Union, regional economic communities, and governments, he also said.
The EIRAF Director finally reported that the region launched a regional research network in 2022 and a regional communicators’ network in 2023.
Need for unity of the trade union movement
The newly elected International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary Luc Triangle addressed the executive board, celebrating a win for workers and the trade union movement. On 10 November, the International Labour Organization’s Governing Body voted in favour of seeking a resolution from the International Court of Justice over a long-standing dispute between workers’ and employers’ representatives related to the right to strike.
For nearly 10 years, Triangle said, “the work of the ILO has been paralysed,” as there has been an impasse on the issue at the ILO between the worker representatives, who support the ILO jurisprudence – meaning that the right to strike derives under international law from ILO Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association) and 98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining) – , and the representatives of employers.
The ITUC leader went on calling for the unity of the trade union movement at global level, “because the international context is extremely difficult,” none the least with the eventual enlargement of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) economic bloc to six more countries (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia and Argentina).
Acknowledging that democracy is under threat worldwide, he was adamant that the global trade union movement must fight for it, “because it is connected to our values, such as inclusion, public services or gender equality. The decline of democracy is linked to the decline of workers’ rights, trade union rights, LGBT rights and women’s rights.” Reaffirming that “we are the largest social movement defending democracy,” he informed that fighting for democracy will be the main campaign theme for ITUC for 2024.
On the economic system, characterised by growing inequalities and poverty, Triangle noted that a world based on richness, rights for all and inclusion is possible, only a matter of political choice. How to finance that? he asked. “Fair taxation is key. Trillions of dollars are available but not taxed.”
The EI Executive Board also paid tribute to All-India Primary Teachers’ Federation (AIPTF) President Ram Pal Singh Ji who recently passed away after “dedicating his life to upholding the rights of teachers and fighting for quality education for all.”
Before meeting again in March 2024, they further thanked outgoing member Steffen Handal of Union of Education Norway for leaving an “indelible mark” to global education unionism and always “staying true as a principled teacher union activist”, during the two mandates he served on the EI Executive Board.