Education International
Education International

Sylvia Borren: We can do more!

published 25 July 2007 updated 25 July 2007

In her speech at the 5th EI World Congress, Sylvia Borren, Executive Director of Oxfam-Novib, announced two projects that Oxfam and EI are instigating in order to contribute towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

The first is a pilot plan to train teachers. An estimated 18 million more trained teachers are needed by 2015 in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals – “a capacity far beyond the present training colleges”. The pilot project would go some way to addressing this shortfall and enable teachers to, in the words of Fred van Leeuwen, “reconquer our profession”.

Borren also encouraged participation in the performance of the Poverty Requiem in schools around the world on 5th October – World Teachers’ Day – and 17th October as part of the global day of action of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP). The Poverty Requiem, co-composed by Borren and Peter Maissan, formed the opening ceremony of EI’s World Congress on 22nd July.

Sylvia Borren’s speech is available below:


Dear colleagues – This month we have reached the halfway mark to the Millennium Goals. In time. But not in achievements. To be quite blunt with you, we are not on track. Poverty is not being halved, half a million women die each year unnecessarily in childbirth, a child dies every three seconds, more than 80 million children are not in school but involved in the most abhorrent forms of child labor.

In the words of the Poverty Requiem: ‘We can change it….Will you change it?’

As Oxfam Novib we have supported the Global March against Child Labor for many years, and in one of the marches I was at in India, young child activists asked everyone the following questions:

  • Do you know about child labor?
  • Are you doing anything to stop it?
  • Can you do more?

My speech is about that last question: CAN WE DO MORE?

Oxfam Novib and Education International and its members have worked together on unusual projects before. We supported summer schools in the camps in Albania when the people of Kosovo had to flee, and we rebuilt schools on their return home. I was very proud of the work done by EI member organization SHBSK at that time. We have more recently built schools together after the Tsunami disaster in Sri Lanka and Aceh. Actually we were able to provide the finance, but you, the members of EI, have actually with great success managed to get those schools built.

I am here today to ask your support and cooperation for two plans: A pilot plan - and a campaign.

1. A pilot plan to train more teachers

Education International, Oxfam International, Action Aid, the Global March against Child Labor and many others – we have worked together in the Global Campaign for Education – and we have been able to demand more finance for education. We know that at least 6% of any government spending should be on education, and for many governments in poor countries in Africa that 6% is actually much too low to meet the needs of the children of their countries.

Finance for education is essential, we agree fully that education is a governmental responsibility, that education should be free, and that teachers need to be well trained and well paid. Together within the GCE we have criticized the World Bank and the IMF for their wrong policies of financial caps on government spending, which has negatively affected educational spending, often bringing down teacher numbers and salaries.

The reality is that there is not enough money spent on education, that more than 80 million children never go to school, actually a majority of girls. When we also know that educated girls can make better choices in their lives, can avoid getting infected with HIV-AIDS, have less children who they can care for better, and are economically and politically more active.

The lack of available schools gives a gap which NGO’s and nonformal teachers are trying to fill. Besides that education is privatizing and commercializing, therefore becoming a commodity for those who can afford it. This we cannot agree with, then education becomes a privilege, not a right.

Let me be very clear – privatizing and commercializing of education is a wrong trend, but believe me, it is happening faster than you think, and as we speak.

Now this is the pilot plan I have been talking to your Secretary General Fred van Leeuwen about:

We will continue to campaign for more finance for education within the GCE. But we need more than money for education, we desperately need more teachers. Fred speaks of 18 million teachers more by 2015. This is a capacity far beyond the present training colleges. This is an emergency situation. Regardless of how much money we manage to get from governments, we will not reach the millennium goals because of lack of teachers.

At the same time there are many ex-teachers, men and women who were trained as teachers, but who have gone on to other jobs. And there are many many informal teachers, who are helping in class rooms and running informal education activities.

I know that traditionally the teachers' unions are not keen on this increase in informal education and informal teachers. However we as Oxfam Novib do support such projects, some of which are really wonderful. I want to acknowledge a few examples here. BRAC in Bangladesh has for the last twenty-five years run more than 35,000 village schools for children not managing to go to state schools.

They have reached 8% of Bangladeshi children who would have had no education otherwise. A village school has to have 70% girls in the classroom, runs for four hours a day for children between 8 and 12 who have no other educational opportunity, is run by a local village girl who gets a very structured curriculum and a senior teaching supervisor a day a week in her first year. Many many BRAC children have not only become literate but have gone on successfully to secondary schools.

Prathan in India is a second example – working with unemployed women in the slum areas of cities, they find children in their own neighborhoods who are not attending school. The women teach basic literacy and numeracy via a very innovative method which Prathan developed. In the school holidays these neighborhood mothers take groups of these children into the regular schools – and at the beginning of the school term they are integrated into the regular classes, but with special support, which is in part provided by the women who found the children and started them off. It is a win-win for everyone, because these neighborhood women then have employment as assistant teachers, and they are able to keep an eye out for the children they managed to bring into the schools.

The third example, and by the way I know there are many others, is that of Tin Tua in Burkino Faso who worked in villages with mothers and their children, and who have developed a whole curriculum for informal adult- and child education which has now been adopted by the government of Burkino Faso.

All these examples are bridging measures, giving children life chances, with bridge teachers who have often become role models. Particularly the women who have received new opportunities and given new chances to girls.

Now what is the pilot plan. It is that members of Education International work with Oxfam Novib to define what a quality teacher should have in terms of knowledge, skills and attitudes – in terms of competencies.

Then we organize together pilot training courses for informal teachers and ex-teachers who through such courses manage to become qualified or re-qualified – and they return to the classroom. Such a side stream of teachers into the profession can do something to alleviate the desperate shortage of teachers we are facing today. But it means you have to think of more than your profession, you have to do it for the children not in school today, nor tomorrow if we do not bridge this emergency. This can actually increase your trade union membership – if you are prepared to build bridges for the children of the world, for reaching the Millennium Goals. Many other trade unions are building such bridges between formal and informal parts of their professions. You could not turn your back on informal teachers, but bring them into your trade union, help them be trained and qualified, and create a win-win for the children, the trade-unions and the education systems at the same time. You as trade unions can work with your governments to organize such new training opportunities. In doing this you are also improving your gender and diversity policies, because you are recognizing the competencies mothers have in raising their children, and you can bring these women as a new group of bilingual teachers into schools to help educate indigenous groups. Mothers as new role-models have been proven effective in the examples of informal education that I have cited.

I am optimistic that we will be able to find money for such pilots if we together put our shoulders under this plan. The nice thing is for you as members of Education International that you can also, as Fred calls it, be reconquering your profession. You are the teachers, you know what teachers can and should know and do.

But I have an extra reason for being enthusiastic about this. We as Oxfam Novib are keen to develop with Education International an idea, a concept about an educational curriculum which is innovative. Education for peace, for gender-justice, for the prevention of violence and HIV-AIDS and for active citizenship. There is excellent work on these issues done by your members, in regular schools, but also in some informal education schemes. This pilot plan can build bridges between formal and informal educational practice, so that we can collect the best of both worlds, we can create innovative curricula and educational materials together.

So my colleague Lindy v.d. Vliet and I are keen to know which EI members will work with us on such a pilot.

That was my first ask. Now for the second one.

This is about campaigning. At the start of this congress you have heard part of the Poverty Requiem which I wrote with my composer friend Peter Maissan. In most of your countries the Social Watch Network which we also support as Oxfam Novib is active, researching the advances or fall back in reaching the millennium goals. In many Asian countries there is a new social movement which is very exciting, called ‘WE CAN end all violence against women’. It is exciting because 40% of those who have pledged and joined that campaign are actually men, and we are trying to help this movement get foot in African and Latin American AND in western countries too.

And of course in many of your countries the Global Campaign for Education and the Global March against Child Labor are active together. In 120 countries around the world there are now action groups of the Global Campaign against Poverty – a very broad coalition including the women’s movement, faith based organizations and other social movements and NGO networks like Oxfam. And in all of your countries there are many choirs, members of the International Federation of Choral Music.

We have discovered that all these different social actors often don’t know each other. This is where you can help.

So what I ask is the following. Can you get parts of the Poverty Requiem to be performed in your schools around the country for the 5th of October, World Teachers' Day. And can you then perform this again on the 17th October, which is the big global action day of GCAP, demanding attention for the Millennium Goals which are not on track. You can do this simply in the schools, but you can also do it with the GCAP platforms and the other social movements in your countries and your communities. If you can stand up against poverty, sing part of the Poverty Requiem on the 17th of October – you should take a photo, do a head count, and sent this together to the Guinness Book of Records. In 2006 this GCAP mobilization had 23.5 million people standing up around the world against poverty in a 24 hour action – this is the highest record that the Guinness book of Records ever had in all its history. The most terrible thing about this was that is got no publicity, besides one small mention on BBC world. Now this year we want the first Poverty Requiem to be performed in New Zealand, and we want it to swing around the world, ending in California and Peru. We want to get a lot of publicity, to show our leaders that we are serious about achieving the Millennium Goals.

If you as members of Education International join this mobilization on the 17th of October, we should be able to get more than 50 million people around the world, standing and singing for the achievement of the Millennium Goals.

Now for those of you who want to join this action – you have had the booklets on your chairs on Sunday. Many of you have actually picked up a CD at the Action Aid stand. The Poverty Requiem website carries all the music, text, scores and examples of performances. We can send you CD’s if you have trouble downloading this material.

I can only say to the children in India: Can we do more? Yes we can. And we will. We are working on the pilot plan, we are working on this public campaigning, and for the children of the world we can and we will do more.

Thank you very much.