Unions get ready to drive the Education agenda forward (12 February 2016)
With the Education 2030 agenda in full force, unions from Nairobi to Bangkok are sharpening their positions in order to aim high through advocacy and action to achieve the new Sustainable Development Goal.
Affiliates from Asia and Africa have learnt first-hand how to coordinate and put forward their strategies within the new framework of the Education 2030 agenda that was adopted by UNESCO member States in Paris last autumn. Two workshops in Nairobi and Bangkok led by Education International (EI)’s regional offices have helped participants deepen their understanding of the new framework and map out common advocacy strategies in order to influence policy both at national, regional and international level.
Two continents – one agenda
“We are not gathering here for a workshop; we are gathering for a cause”, underlined Shashi Bala Singh, EI’ Asia Chief Regional Coordinator during the opening the session in Bangkok. Participants agreed that the challenges faced by education in the region were manifold, ranging from the poor quality of education and an alarming shortage of qualified teachers to situations of conflict and emergency. Social exclusion as well as gender imbalances when it comes to the access to education were also highlighted as problems to tackle, topped by the increasing trend of the privatisation and commercialisation of education through the proliferation of low-fee private schools – in South Asia, one in three students in primary and secondary education attend private institutions.
The workshop in Nairobi made clear that similar concerns affect the African region: despite significant advancements made in terms of enrolment rates, access remains partial and the quality of the education provided far from satisfactory, notably because of a severe lack of investment, which results in poor infrastructures and soaring teacher-to-pupil ratios. Private for-profit institutions are also settling rapidly in several African countries, posing a threat to the right to quality education for all children.
During his closing remarks at the workshop for the African region, EI Senior Coordinator Dennis Sinyolo highlighted that “what we do from here is what will make a difference”. Some education unions have already set up effective advocacy strategies which have led them to significant victories, such as is the case in Brazil, Indonesia, Mauritius or Chile.
By and large, funding issues were highlighted during both seminars, and financing was at the core of all discussions. Participants agreed that government investment in education results in better qualified teachers, improved infrastructure, more inclusive schools and better learning outcomes.
The importance of teachers unions in the development, implementation and monitoring of the new framework was also a common point raised. With teachers often side-lined in the decision-making and planning process, education unions from both continents expect to be given a voice in future policy. In the words of Min Bista, coordinator of UNESCO’s Bangkok work on Education 2030 in Asia-Pacific: “The role of teachers must be recognized”.