Empowering educators: Transformative initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region

published 17 June 2024 updated 28 June 2024

In the face of pressing global challenges, Education International’s Asia-Pacific (EIAP) regional office is spearheading Development Cooperation (DC) initiatives to revitalize unions, advocate for public education, and address the urgent climate crisis.

The Asia-Pacific region is currently grappling with significant hurdles that hinder progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. The pandemic has widened the digital divide, teacher shortages are more pronounced, and funding for education is in a precarious state. Moreover, the region is witnessing an alarming erosion of trade union rights and human rights.

Amidst these challenges, the regional office has outlined a strategic framework with four pivotal directions: union renewal, rights and democracy, the EI “Go Public! Fund Education” campaign, and support for the global EI “Teach for the Planet” campaign.

Optimal collaboration at the core

In his message, EIAP Director Anand Singh highlighted the synergistic approach to DC work, the reliance on research and policy for guidance, and the value of tapping into the collective expertise for successful program implementation.

"Whatever we are doing is not only done by the regional office alone, but with your active engagement and participation," Singh stated, highlighting the collective effort and shared responsibility. "Whatever we do, we do it together, we develop the content together, we implement the programs together, nothing is imposed on member organizations benefitting from cooperation projects," he said, illustrating a democratic and inclusive approach to project development and implementation.

He went on to outline the foundational principles that guide their work: “We are guided by the 2021 DC Handbook, that is our base document that we use.” He also stressed the importance of being informed by solid research conducted over three to five years, ensuring that their actions are backed by expert knowledge.

The impact of climate change

The President of the Council of Pacific Education (COPE), Neselinda Meta, also reflected on the urgency and severity of climate change for the Pacific Island nations, as well as the collective efforts to integrate climate education into school curricula and strengthen community resilience.

“Climate change is real to us; it is very serious. We are losing our homes, our land plantations, our churches, our schools, our hospitals, and we even get separated from our families; it is very real to us,” she stated.

“The first-ever climate conference held last year in Fiji, from the 23rd to the 25th of May, marked a turning point,” she continued. About 50 participants, union leaders from all the Pacific countries, came together to share knowledge and strengthen their capacities in the face of the growing challenges posed by climate change.

“Teachers are on the front line to pass on this knowledge to the children,” Meta emphasized. Last April 17th-19th, fifty teachers’ unions and the Fijian Teachers Association came together for a climate conference action. “They discussed the curriculum and how to integrate it to help raise awareness of climate change.”

Meta concluded by thanking the DC partners for their “continuous support and initiative.” She highlighted the solidarity and commitment of the unions to respond to the intensified challenges of climate change in the Pacific.

Singh added that the “Educators for Sustainable Development” initiative aligns with the global “Teach for the Planet” campaign. This initiative provides research and toolkits to integrate climate change education into curricula, recognizing the existential threat posed by the climate emergency, especially in the Pacific.

Advocating for public education

The EI Go Public! Fund Education campaign has made significant strides across the region, championing the cause of public education and highlighting its role as the cornerstone of democratic societies, Singh also said, underlining ongoing projects in Indonesia and Mongolia.

Union renewal for a stronger future

He further noted that DC initiatives supporting union renewal are also designed to breathe new life into unions, bolster member engagement, and foster second-line leadership. This direction is crucial for ensuring that unions remain relevant and effective in advocating for educators’ rights.

Championing rights, democracy and inclusivity

Another core focus of DC work is on gender equality, particularly within union structures and leadership roles. Efforts are underway to reactivate women’s networks and develop a rights index for educators, ensuring that every voice is heard and valued.

The importance of inclusivity and diversity within unions was further underscored, with the formation of women’s, youth, and LGBTQI+ groups. These efforts aim to create a more equitable and representative union landscape.

Transforming unions into campaigning organizations

The discussions also highlighted the transformation of unions from service-based entities to campaigning organizations. This shift focuses on building capacity and leadership within unions, exemplified by the John Thompson Fellowship program.

Partners also presented projects focusing on union strengthening, for example projects on union renewal in Fiji or on digital transformation in India.

These projects can be found on the EI Cooperation Projects Database.

Singh announced that the next steps involve focusing on “Go Public” projects and organizing a regional DC meeting to develop a post-Congress four-year work plan. The collective strength and resilience of trade unions will be pivotal in navigating the challenges ahead.