The fifth World Congress of the world's largest teacher union federation was opened this morning in Berlin by the President of the Germany Federal Republic, Horst Köhler.
Representing 30 million workers in the education sector worldwide, Education International is the largest global federation composed of teacher organisations across the globe.
The choir of Oxfam Netherlands (NOVIB)performing the Poverty Requiem.
The opening day started with the rendition of the "Poverty Requiem" by the choir of Oxfam Netherlands (NOVIB). The lyrics of the song echoed the theme of this year's congress: Joining Together for Quality Education and Social Justice
Extending a warm welcome to the 1700 representatives of teacher organisations around the world to Berlin, President Köhler highlighted the importance of the teaching profession: "Good teachers are like – in both European and Arabic literatures – gardeners, who care for each of our children, support them as they grow, nurture and develop their individual gifts and potentials."
"... (therefore) we should be prepared to give teachers the working conditions they deserve. That is not only a question of salary. We also have to ensure class sizes are manageable, provide teachers with professional and social support, integrate the school in its social environment, and value and recognise the teaching profession."
Köhler also spoke against the global poverty and how industrialised nations in the world should do more in the fight against it.
President Köhler's address was followed by that of Anita Normak, Vice Chair of the Council of Global Unions and General Secretary of the International for Building, Wood Forestry and Allied Workers.
On behalf of the Global Union Federations and the Global Unions family, Normak commented on the need for stronger co-operation and co-ordination among unions of different sectors to fight poverty and obtain better working conditions for all workers.
Next, EI President Thulas Nxesi welcomed all participants and guests to the World Congress. By reflecting on the Congress theme, he talked about the major challenges that education unions face going forward:
"We believe that with an expanded EI and a restructured global union movement we wield the instruments to take forward the struggle for quality education and social justice for all. We now have to replicate that same unity on the ground – country by country – to ensure that we can deliver to our members, our learners and the communities we account to."
The congress was then addressed by the presidents of the host organisations, Ulrich Thöne of the GEW, Dr Ludwig Eckinger of the VBE and Berthold Gehlert of the BLBS.
Dietmar Hexel, Executive Board member of the German Trade Union Centre (DGB), next spoke about the fight for social justice being the common basis for the future of all trade unions, while Kari Tapiola, ILO Executive Director of Standards and Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, elaborated on the partnership between the ILO and EI.
Sharan Burrow, President of the International Trade Union Confederation, then spoke against the marginalisation of workers and how wages are declining against global profit. Burrow also praised EI for its work on fighting discrimination, and she saluted the indigenous populations of the world.
Jürgen Zöllner, President of the Ministerial Council of Education Ministers of Germany and Senator for education, science and research, next spoke about the current challenges faced by the German education system. He saluted all teachers and will "work to ensure that the whole society recognises the merits of [their] profession".
The opening session of the Congress ended with a special note of appreciation to Eva-Maria Stange, the German Minister of Arts and Science of the State of Saxony, former Vice President of EI.