Education International
Education International

EI General Secretary's Progress Report to the 5th World Congress

published 22 July 2007 updated 22 July 2007

In his speech on the opening day of EI's 5th World Congress, General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen reported on the progress made in the implementation of EI's aims and activities since the previous congress in Porto Alegre in 2004.

Here are the videos of the speech with English voice-over. Please click twice on the image for the larger version.

Top-Left: Part 1; Top-Right Part 2; Middle-Left: Part 3; Middle-Right: Part 4; Bottom-Left: Part 5; Bottom-Right Part 6;For more EI videos, please visit our Youtube channel: www.youtube.com/EduInternational

He also defined Education International’s mission “to build a better world for the young generation who looks to us for hope in the future”.

The speech is available, in English, below:


President, fraternal guests, colleagues.

EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen

Three years ago, in Porte Alegre, we called for governments to move from rhetoric to action. We set out clearly what we expect from governments, in a nutshell, concrete measures to achieve quality education for all, as a public service not a commodity. And first and foremost the recruitment, education and retention of quality teachers. You set a mandate for EI to mobilize around those goals, and adopted a work program based on five Principal Aims.

This is a report on the progress we have made. It is based on the three Annual Reports you have received. You will see in those reports the great amount of work that has been undertaken, with the active participation of many thousands of members: the mobilization, the interventions, the solidarity actions. This vast range of activities has been coordinated by a dedicated secretariat team working from our Brussels headquarters and the regional offices.

I want to highlight just some of the activities reported, and to suggest future lines of action.

If there is one area where we have succeeded, it has been in building awareness. Our challenge now, more than ever, is to translate awareness into action.

Action is what we are demanding from governments, and action is what the communities we serve around the world so desperately need.


[Globalization has forced governments to recognize the importance of education; it is on the lips of every political leader; it is reaffirmed in every summit communique. But globalization of the economy has been accompanied by paralysis in global governance.

Democracy is enjoyed by more people than ever before, but human and trade union rights are still being violated.

More countries are on the path to development, but social injustice and inequality is increasing dramatically. Africa is not sharing in the growth of the rest of the world.

Corporations benefit massively from globalization, but fail to contribute resources to the social needs of communities using their global reach to avoid reasonable taxation.

We have more human mobility than at any other time in history. But discrimination against migrants is on the rise and has provided fertile ground for demagogues. We should have an era of peace; instead there are cruel conflicts. There is new awareness of climate change, but incapacity to act.

There are some signs of change. There has been growing awareness of the folly of some of our leaders. We hope for more enlightened policies. The great choices for our nations are perhaps clearer than they have been for some time. Imagine if the resources poured into the Iraq war over the last 5 years had been used instead to achieve the UN Millenium Development Goals! ]


Colleagues, as the UN Secretary General in his message to our World Congress states, we are at the half-way point to 2015. But the UN warns that we are not likely to achieve the Millennium Development Goals –the MDGs - in the seven and a half years left until the target date, set by all world leaders. Some progress has been made, but the overall picture is grim. Poverty is not declining. Equality is a distant dream. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen. Only five countries meet the targets set by the UN to spend 0.7 % of their GDP for development cooperation: Denmark, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. What about the G8 countries? They produce glowing statements full of promises at their annual summits. But they fail to act. As part of a trade union delegation we met Mr. Blair prior to the Gleneagles summit in 2005. We had high expectations but too little happened. Last year we met with Mr. Putin and reminded him of all the promises. We did not get much response. Neither did we get much from Ms Merkel a few weeks ago before the Heiligendamm Summit. In fact, the MDGs had virtually disappeared from the G8 agenda altogether. We have kept them right on top of ours!

Goal #2: Achieve Universal Primary Education, Goal # 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women; and Goal # 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.


We insist that universal primary education be achieved through quality public education. But countries measure progress by their school enrolment figures. The more children you enrol as a country, the higher you get on the international EFA achievement chart. But what about curriculum, education content? What about quality? Cramming as many children as possible into school buildings does not produce quality education. Quality, this has been a focal point of our advocacy in the past three years.

But governments are tempted by stop-gap solutions, and there are some astonishing examples of their poor judgement. In Ethiopia, distance education has been introduced in the 9 and 10th grade. Classes are provided with flat screen televisions. The only thing teachers do is to switch on the television in the morning, switch it off for lunch break, switch it on again early afternoon and switch it off again at the end of the school day. The education ministry will do the rest, broadcasting 30 minute lessons throughout the day. Teachers get only a few minutes between the lesson programs to answer questions. There are no books, just the plasma screen. Add a webcam and you have big brother in education… Some students revolt and damage the plasma screens, and teachers have great difficulties in keeping order. Teachers started producing their own teaching materials. Believe it or not, they were arrested for violating copyrights. How far can you go in tormenting professionals!

The most disturbing example of Government stop gap solutions, remains the engaging of un-qualified people as so-called voluntary teachers. Colleagues, the number of unqualified people in classrooms continues to rise.

On World Teachers’ Day this year we will again call for Quality Teachers and Quality Education. But the alarming news from UNESCO is that unless drastic measures are undertaken, we should expect a shortage of 18 million primary school teachers by 2015: 5 million in the industrial economies and 13 million in low income countries. This will further increase the pressure on governments to loosen quality standards.

A teacher shortage on this scale could not only become the most serious challenge our profession has ever faced. It could also pose a serious threat to the survival of our public school systems worldwide. Teachers will be induced to move from low to medium to high income countries, and within countries from public to private. Today, agencies in the North are already actively recruiting teachers from the South. Our Commonwealth teachers’ group has succeeded in reaching an understanding with the Education Ministers of the Commonwealth countries to stop doubtful recruitment practices. Let there be no misunderstanding: we do not wish to create barriers for colleagues who want to take up teaching positions abroad. On the contrary teachers’ mobility can be advantageous for the individual teacher and for the sector as a whole. But we must insist on a set of rules.

We insist that international standards be respected and that low income countries be compensated for teachers leaving. We also succeeded to persuade the ILO to help give the Commonwealth protocol a global meaning and to support our view that there are no short cuts to quality, that teachers are at the heart of quality improvements. Two months ago ILO recommended to all governments to phase out the use of contract teachers by 2015.

It is of utmost importance that all EI member organizations allow contract teachers, including unqualified teachers, to become union members. Excluding these teachers is wrong and unwise. We must organize them and help them to become qualified colleagues able to join the profession.

We must also insist that priority be given to expanding quality teacher education. When we emphasise the importance of improving education we should also be able to define what we mean by quality. Today it is known though-out the international community that Education International does not accept unqualified people in the class room unless under the guidance of a qualified teacher and following a teacher education program. That position, colleagues, requires that we also accept our responsibility to define qualification standards, minimum standards, if you will. And perhaps we should also become engaged in educating and training teachers, actively combating looming shortages. Certainly, teacher education is and should remain the responsibility of public authorities. But the reality is that governments of low income countries may not have the capacity to educate and prepare 13 million qualified teachers in the coming 7 years. Already, much teacher education is being undertaken by the private sector, including civil society organizations. Our involvement could focus on the development of teacher education programs for contract teachers, volunteers, community teachers and others who are not yet qualified, but who should be given the opportunity to join the profession as qualified teachers.

We have trained teachers before. In-service teacher training is also one of the main components of our EFAIDS program. Since 2004 we have combined our campaign for EFA with our programs against HIV/AIDS, convinced as we are that education is the only [social] vaccine against HIV and AIDS. The EFAIDS program is one of our largest and most successful development programs for which we receive funding from the Dutch government. Our programs now cover 45 member unions in 34 countries, They have won the respect of WHO, UNESCO and our sponsors. But it is still too little when confronted with the enormity of the pandemic.

Could I underline that the availability of quality education is also the only effective response to child labour. With our colleagues from Global Union Federations in the agricultural , mining and construction sectors we have started programs where their member unions and our member organizations actively get children from the working sites into schools.

One emerging issue that requires our close attention is the development of public private partnerships of various kinds. The World Economic Forum has launched a Global Education Initiative, to fund teacher education and support quality in public education in developing countries. We are clear that so-called PPPs must not be a way for governments to escape their responsibilities. We have to be vigilant. This week’s press reports that Barclay’s Bank will donate 20 million Euros to Amsterdam University when taking over the Dutch Bank ABN Amro. What are the implications? The experience of public-private interaction has been different in different countries. We should not reject such interaction per se. We must engage in this debate, influence it, and assert our agenda, which is quality and equity through public education.


Colleagues, almost immediately after the closure of our fourth World Congress in the summer of 2004, we were confronted with disaster after disaster, natural disasters as well as manmade disasters. We will never forget the tsunami hitting Indonesia, Sri Lanka and other nations around the Indian Ocean taking the lives of more than 2000 of our colleagues. The meaning of solidarity became very real when member unions, schools, teachers, students around the world contributed so generously to help bring relief. In Indonesia we were able to develop a program with: in service training programs for more than 1000 teachers, two year scholarships for 3000 students and the construction of 28 schools. Two weeks ago we completed the last primary school in Aceh and handed it over to the public authorities. In Sri Lanka, where we are building 8 schools, the program slowed down as a result of the war, but we expect to complete construction before the end of the year. Oxfam Novib and Oxfam International, which have been always our closest allies in times of emergency, provided … million from their relief funds. I am proud of our on-site staff for having done such out-standing jobs.

There were other disasters. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and in most cases we were able to provide some humanitarian assistance, either directly or through aid agencies. No man made disaster ranks higher than the Beslan school hostage crisis in September 2004 that ended with 334 people killed including 186 children and 18 teachers. Again with your help we were able to establish a trust fund for the education of the children of colleagues who were killed.

In the past three years I have become keenly aware that our disaster relief work, whether humanitarian assistance or rehabilitation programs, is important for many of our members. The regular aid agencies have a vital role, which we fully respect and support, but many members also want to do something through EI, and that desire must be “cherished”.

In March the Executive Board set the parameters for EI relief work as one of the three components of our solidarity program. The other two components are Solidarity assistance aimed at supporting unions and their members where they are victims of repression and violations of human and trade union rights, and Development cooperation aimed at strengthening our member organizations. This cooperation is our core business. It is one of our main tools to combat poverty and inequity and to achieve human rights and democracy. It is an ongoing cooperative effort between EI, donor organizations, and education unions in all regions. Let me thank all member unions who have contributed resources, time and commitment.

It is tempting to list the many organizations and programs which have made an important difference. I refer to the report. But let me take you to the blank spots on EI’s world map of cooperation, areas where strong, independent education unions could make a tremendous contribution to democratic change and development. Those blank spots are Central Asia, the Middle East, and parts of North and East Africa where we must step up our activities in these countries.

Our 4th World Congress adopted a resolution on the Middle East, mandated the Executive Board to establish an Advisory Committee and develop a plan of action. We have done all of that. The Board proposes that in the coming four years we invest 1 million Euros in trade union training and professional development, for our members and future members in the countries in the Middle East, with emphasis on Palestine, Israel and their immediate neighbours. This is all clearly focused on helping the peace process. Meanwhile we have continued to support the Palestinian teachers union. Let me say clearly that we will not accept the weakening of our member organization, the GUPT, because of the recent conflict between Hamas and El Fatah, or for any other reason. One of the basic conditions for a future with peace and progress in the countries of the Middle East is to have independent and democratic education unions.

This is also understood in the Lebanon where teachers’unions are loosening their ties with political parties. We have welcomed two Lebanese organizations as members of EI. We had a first meeting last summer in the ravaged city of Beirut. 25 Lebanese and 4 Israeli teachers lost their lives in last years war. We have made it very clear that while we would not want to deny Israel or Lebanon the right to protect their people against violence, military action that kills innocent civilians, including many children, is intolerable among civilized nations. Throughout the conflict we were in close contact with our Israeli, Palestine and Lebanese member organizations and tried to help them all.

No good news from Iraq either, where teachers have been increasingly targeted by radical Shiites or Sunnis – who want them to take sides in the conflict. No matter what we think about the role our governments play, it is of the utmost importance that – again - we help to build democratic and independent teachers’ organizations; that are able to exert the moral and political pressure needed to break out of the vicious cycles of violence and get the focus back where it should be – on rebuilding not destroying. Teachers everywhere, including our colleagues in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon, in Iraq and Afghanistan want to build for the future, educating children and young people in a spirit of hope, not despair.


Colleagues, if the international community had been more decisive over Darfur, how many lives could have been saved! Since February 2003 between 200,000 and 400,000 people have been killed, and more than 2.5 million are displaced. We have said to all the governments at the African Union and at the UN: “Politics should not be allowed to prevail over the need to put a stop to human suffering”. Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Ivory Coast… no conflict today is purely local – in a global age each conflict has a global dimension.

[It is very disturbing to see how selective some of our political leaders are in giving attention to these conflicts. The same is true for their willingness to take on dictatorships, when this is not politically convenient. North Korea and Zimbabwe are easy targets for almost everybody; countries such as Iran are a bit more difficult, while nobody dares offend China. ]

Last October the Executive Board discussed the situation in China, which employs 20% of the planet’s teaching force. We felt that EI has a responsibility to help the teachers there. They have been targets of repression, particularly when they have spoken out against the government and the party. But in spite of the repressive climate, there have been teacher protests against poor terms and employment conditions, and there has even been illegal strike action. The Board decided to establish an Advisory Committee on China and to support, at the recommendation of our members in Hong Kong, local teachers groups in Mainland China with trade union education and professional development programs.

Meanwhile China, [this single party state with a booming market economy,] has embarked upon a new economic colonization in Africa, without any regard for human rights and democracy like the European colonial powers in the 19th and 20th century.

This week we will launch our triennial barometer showing the sorry state of international human and trade union rights in many countries. One of the alarming findings is the increase in human trafficking and violence against women. In 2006 alone EI intervened with national authorities in 40 countries who were infringing core labour standards or worse. Harassment and detention of education union activists, the refusal to comply with ILO conventions 87 and 98 - it is becoming the daily practice. In the past three years we made more requests for interventions to the International labour organization than ever before.

There were the notorious offenders: Colombia, where 33 teachers were murdered in 2006, while many more received death threats and were forced to flee the villages and towns where they were teaching. In Ethiopia, security forces broke up the ETA assembly and a number of leaders were detained; in Zimbabwe, Mr. Mugabe’s police force selected World Teachers Day as the moment to beat up members and leaders of the PTUZ, who followed our call to get together on that day to celebrate. I am afraid that there is not much to celebrate anymore in that country. There were new offenders as well, Iran being one of them. We are currently witnessing the re-birth of a teachers’ trade union movement in that country. [After the Iranian Bus Drivers] teachers have started mobilizing for their rights and better conditions. There were demonstrations, there was a violent response by the government, and there were arrests, and people disappeared. A familiar sequence of event in Iran when democracy tries to raise its head. I am very happy that a representative of the Iranian teachers organizations is with us at this Congress. I want our colleagues in Iran to know that we are with them, all the way, until they have achieved all of their legitimate rights, to begin with ensuring the safety and security of our Iranian colleague when he returns to his country later this week.

Free trade unionism is one of the vital institutions of democracy. Yet, trade union rights have also been under attack in democratic countries, with social dialogue usually being the first casualty. Governments of several OECD countries, from Western Europe, some Canadian provinces, a number of US states, Japan and Korea and – let us not forget Mr. Howard’s Australia – have argued that they have to adopt neo-liberal policies to ensure competitiveness in the global economy. Accepting such arguments is to participate in a race to the bottom.

Collective bargaining rights for educators and the right to be consulted on education policy are crucially important, not only because they are the legitimate rights of our members, but also because their successful outcomes help to ensure that the profession will attract and retain quality teachers for quality education. The Peruvian government has declared education an essential service to outlaw industrial action. Then they adopted without any consultation a new teacher career law As we speak, our colleagues in Peru are on strike and I am confident that you would agree that we convey to them a message of solidarity!

Colleagues, while EI has taken action in every case known to us where rights of teachers were violated, I regret to say that some member organizations have been too hesitant in adding their voice to our protest, or in coming to the rescue of a sister union under attack. We do believe that education unions cannot stand by in silence while the rights of sisters and brothers are being trampled, at least not without risking losing credibility as a union. That credibility will definitely evaporate when unions themselves facilitate trade union right violations. We had an awkward experience of that in Macedonia where the national trade union confederation and the government had joined forces to harass our member union. We had great difficulties in persuading them that the Berlin Wall had fallen 18 years ago and that in democratic nations, teachers unions can decide for themselves whether or not to belong to a particular trade union center.

There is a fine line between trade union action and political activity. While it is inherent in our work that we associate with political parties or groups, that share our aspirations, there is a risk that the responsibilities of union and parties, particularly when represented in government, can become blurred if they are not kept strictly separate. When rank and file members are not certain whether it is the government or the union that is beating their heads, we have a problem.


EI has a crucially important role in today’s world of building bridges of understanding, in helping create the conditions that enable communities to embrace the diversity that is inevitable in each of our societies in the context of globalization. In Morocco, we brought together member organizations from the so-called western countries, with those from Muslim countries. There can be no doubt that one of the most important debates today centers on the divergence between religion and religious practice, on the one hand, and individual freedoms, human rights and democracy, on the other. Education has a key role in helping our societies to meet this challenge successfully. We must continue this dialogue. The parameters are clear… These are the universal values inscribed in the United Nations charter, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in the ILO Declaration of Philadelphia. Those same values are inscribed in the constitution of Education International. They are our point of departure as well as our destination…

Helping societies embrace diversity… is more than having conversations about building bridges between cultures and religions. It is also a fierce combat against racism, against anti-Semitism, against xenophobia, against homophobia, and against intolerance and discrimination in general. It is also about the rights of minorities, including the indigenous peoples who rightly demand empowerment in today’s global community. And again, education is key. While our membership would want our schools to be places where we teach universal values, dialogue and tolerance, in some countries there is pressure to promote the political, ideological or religious agenda of the government in office. Three examples where member organizations have asked us to intervene. One is the case of Japan, where the Abe government has moved to insert “mandatory patriotism” and “love of the nation and homeland”as a central feature of the Education Law more or less obliging teachers to prepare the way for similar amendments to the Japanese Constitution. Another is the case of Venezuela where Mr. Chavez is putting in place an alternative school sytem, preparing an alternative teaching profession and developing an alternative curriculum, all to serve his own political views and interests. And there is the case of Poland, where the government is reasserting “traditional Polish values” and is also forbidding teachers to discuss matters of sexual orientation. I had an interesting exchange of views with the education minister who has informed us that homosexuals are sick people who undermine the Christian character of the Polish Republic.


EI’s is the teachers’ voice in the global community. But at the regional level our voice has also been heard more clearly – one of the goals we set in Porto Alegre. Governments are listening. Sometimes they even say the right things. But as we all know, the toughest task is to move them from rhetoric to action.

We must make sure that our voice cannot be ignored, by developing our professionalism, and through building our expertise and our research capacity.

One practical example is our work on the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment, PISA. 67 countries participated last year, and when the 2006 report is released next December, we expect front-page headlines again around the world. We are critical of some aspects of PISA and especially of the way it is used by politicians. But the impact of PISA is undeniable, and it has produced strong evidence to support our view that good public education systems provide quality and equality of opportunity.

OECD is developing a new program of direct interest to our members: the Teaching and Learning International Survey – to begin in 2008. We have a strong influence on the development of the survey, and are recognized as a partner by the participating countries.

In Europe, 46 countries have established the Bologna process, through which higher education students and staff can benefit from smooth recognition procedures and academic mobility. We are recognized officially as a consultative member.

Similarly, we have been an effective voice with the ILO/UNESCO Committee of Experts of the Recommendation on Teachers – the CEART. The latest report of this Committee, is the strongest ever in showing that the conditions of teachers, especially in the developing countries, are continuing to decline, and that governments must establish effective social dialogue with teacher unions.

At the WTO we have carried forward the mandate from Porte Alegre on GATS. We have succeeded in raising awareness of the risks inherent in governments signing away their responsibility to provide public education, under the guise of free trade. For the moment, the Doha round of trade talks is stalled because of agriculture, and GATS has been put on the back-burner. But the pressures for commercialization of education are powerful and growing, especially in higher education. Vocational education is not far behind. Even if the Doha round is stalled, GATS type clauses are being written into bilateral and regional trade agreements. This battle is far from over.

Colleagues, there are two things we must do to change public policy and to move governments: One is to mobilize nationally, the other is to be active in coalitions.

Firstly, we must take reports like CEART to the national level – to make sure that governments cannot simply put them away in a drawer and forget them.

We have underlined previously the importance of linking the global with the local. One area of EI where we succeeed in doing that is our ongoing action on the status of women. EI participates actively each year in the UN Commission on the Status of women, and in work with the ITUC and the other global unions, then carries that work out to the regions through our womens’ networks. Our Executive Board’s status of women committee severely monitors the integration of gender issues through-out the EI programme, including in our development cooperation. Here we have a model which we can develop in other areas, including for example, implementation of our Declaration of Professional Ethics.

The second is our strategy of coalitions. [The coalition which has always been important for EI is the Global Union movement. I dare say that the steps that we have taken to unify the teaching profession at the international level have also had an influence on developments within the wider union movement including the creation of the International Trade Union Confederation - ITUC – launched in Vienna in November of last year. ITUC brings together 300 national federations in 157 countries together representing 180 million workers. It embodies a new trade union internationalism, ready to confront the challenges of globalization.]

There is no doubt about EI’s place within the international trade union movement. Each of our member organizations should find a similar place in the national trade union confederations that constitute ITUC. There are still many remaining outside. Being part of organized labour, helping to unify workers organizations, is about making society more just, making governments more honest, making work more decent; it is about giving hope for the future to the boys and girls, young men and women, whom we teach today.…..

Here we see the joining of our role as professionals, as educators, and our role as union activists.


Between 2004 and 2007 our total membership grew from 26 to 29,6 million - in 383 organizations in 169 countries. an increase of 3,6 million.

The largest part of that growth was due to the affiliation of members of the World Confederation of Teachers. Their European unions joined us in July 2004, and their members from Africa and Asia-Pacific joined in October 2006. Yesterday the WCT/EI group was officially dissolved. We know that each of these organisations will fully play its role as a member of EI.

While having achieved unity at the international level, fragmentation at national level could undercut that success. In some countries our movement is very divided. We must encourage organizations to overcome their divisions and to work together.

With a total of 67 million teachers around the globe, we now represent 45 % of them. Where would that other 55% - or 37 million - be hiding? 15 million are in China and another 4 million are members of organizations not yet affiliated with EI. But the remaining 18 million are colleagues in your own countries who have not yet been persuaded to join the union.


Colleagues, since the creation of EI in 1993, our work program and our activities have grown dramatically. Our world-wide advocacy, our capacity to mobilize, and our solidarity have attained levels that would have been hard to imagine back then.

But as this report has shown, the challenges we face today in education, and more broadly for social justice and equity, are greater than at any time since the public school was first established as the basis for universal education.

We should be proud, that we have been able to build Education International as a strong united Global Union, able to play an important role in the global movement for social justice.

Our mobilization to build awareness of the need for quality education for all, and recognition that quality education for all is the basis for social justice in our communities, has been one of our greatest successes. Turning awareness into action remains the major challenge before us. That is the task before Congress, as you set the mandate for the next phase of our mission to build a better world for the young generation who looks to us for hope in the future.