Worlds of Education

“Our Mandate”, by David Edwards

published 22 July 2019 updated 22 August 2019
written by:

Being elected General Secretary of EI is a great honour. It is a challenge to live up to the confidence that has been given by the representatives of education workers from all regions of the world. It is also comforting to join that small team of talented leaders elected on the first day of our Congress.

We are meeting a year after celebrating the first quarter century of EI. That merger produced strong global structures based on a solid foundation of values. That is the precious inheritance that we share and will deploy to meet the challenges to trade unionism, to the teaching profession, and to education in coming years.

However, that period was also one of profound changes in the attitudes of political leaders towards the common good, the central role of government and governance, and the value and values of the public sector. Our times are marked by a rising tide of nativism, income inequality, political conflicts, environmental degradation and an unchecked corporate sector consolidating power and influence. The organized, collective voice of teachers and education personnel has witnessed the damage this tide has brought to their students, colleagues and communities and has accepted the call to lead, to resist and to mobilize.

We resist the increasing individualisation and even atomisation of society, and its impact in our classrooms.

We resist the push for environments that, in the name of efficiency, become less human and more mechanical.

We resist the datafication, weaponization and commercialization of our information and the flexibilization, deregulation and precarity of our work.

But most importantly we resist the notion that greater inequality and fewer rights are inescapable consequences of the 4th industrial revolution and inevitable for the future of work.

In the progress report to the Eighth World Congress, I will lay out the advances we are making despite the challenges and odds. I will hold up a mirror to the 1500 delegates and observers from around the world about the commitment I see in them and their organizations.  I will repeat what I have heard from so many corners about the compelling need for leaders to frame a new narrative and chart a new path amidst the rising and turbulent waters of complexity, insecurity and isolation.

If only there was a group of people who stood for dignity and collective action in the face of disinformation networks as they expand into politics to “market” candidates and issues in the most simplistic possible way. If only that group could educate, inform and activate citizens who have the vision to see the manipulation that contributes to and amplifies the distortion of public debate - and the courage to resist a delivery system for hatred and intolerance.

“If only” has become an effective rhetorical device for awakening people to their collective power and possibility. If only we had a respected role in our communities and were entrusted with the education of future generations. If only we were part of a global, regional and nationally organized movement that was at its core about respect for human beings, children and adults, and the need for dignity and democracy.

Human beings are, by nature, social animals. They do not flourish in splendid isolation. They are, rather, stimulated, developed, and educated through interaction and relationships with others.

People long for community. A sense of community can come with a common identity around shared values. Or identity can be used as a weapon to exclude and divide. This is why schools and curricula have become the targets of so many negative, destructive campaigns by authoritarian, populist nationalists.

However, neither short nor long-term solutions will come from such quarters. The flash of light they offer blinds with fear and hatred. If only there were a collective of people acting and educating for a more stable light of democratic values and processes that illuminate, with hope, a path to a better, more just future.

Neither educators nor trade unionists can change the world alone. However, we should never under-estimate our contributions and impact. We are in every community. We are still, widely respected. And, we work every day, with the future - young people.

Those here in Bangkok will hear me make a call to action that wonders what would happen “if only” we recognized our collective power, vision and leadership. As a post script to that call, understanding the inverse is equally essential.

Only if we take the lead in our profession will we have the ability to ensure that education is human-centred and that our classrooms are places of deliberation, inquiry and diversity.

Only if we take the lead to seek equitable, predictable and sustainable long-term funding of public education, can we provide our students, even the most disadvantaged, adequate resources and services as well as good, supportive working environments for our colleagues, a combination that nurtures healthy school communities.

Only if we build alliances within and beyond our communities will we develop the trust and strength necessary to illuminate a path to a better, more sustainable future.

Only if we carry with us that which we resolve this week when we leave Bangkok and return to our homes, our schools and our unions, will our shared agenda grow roots and take form and substance.

As the newly-elected General Secretary of Education International I am hopeful because solidarity is the lifeblood of our organization. I know that we are more than the sum of our parts. We come together to reaffirm our principles and to chart a steady, common course for an uncommon time.

I cannot imagine anywhere else I would rather be.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.