COVID-19 impact continues to affect terms and conditions in education

published 26 March 2021 updated 26 March 2021

Deepening inequalities across the education sector were revealed at a recent Education International webinar. Affiliates shared experiences of working to improve the terms and working conditions of teachers, academics, and education support personnel. The webinar aimed to inform Education International’s work in this area during the current public health crisis.

EI: Collective thinking around possible responses and policies to support education unions

Welcoming over 150 participants from 55 countries, Education International Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst stressed that this online event was “a great opportunity to share and learn from colleagues across borders”. One year into the pandemic, it was also beneficial “to have an overview and share what we know of the impact of this pandemic on our members’ terms and conditions of work”.

Holst encouraged participants to read the many stories collected by Education International, documenting the impact of this public health crisis on teachers and education support personnel.

Increasing inequality

Holst quoted a blog by Dianne Woloschuk, member of Education International’s Executive Board, “Take the Long View: Scaling the Staircase of Women’s Equality”: “The pandemic has caused no shortage of ill effects, especially for women. According to UN Women, though women make up 39 per cent of employed persons globally, they suffered 54 per cent of the job losses. Seventy per cent of the health and social care workforce are women. Closures of schools and institutions of higher learning hit education support personnel, early childhood educators and women in the higher education sector hard.”

Inequality has increased during the pandemic, Holst acknowledged, adding that rights are under threat, as is the case with contract teachers in Morocco.

One year ago, she said, Education International conducted a survey to assess the initial impact of the CVODI-19 pandemic on its members and educators. This survey showed that the COVID-19 crisis affected membership groups differently: those hit the hardest were education workers in private institutions, higher education personnel and researchers, supply teachers, early childhood education workers, and immigrant teachers.

A more recent survey by Education International on the future of work highlighted the concerns of education workers related to the digital world in which they are working. depending on access to digital tools. “We know that there is also a divide between those who have access or not. We know that there are teachers and education workers who are tackling new tools they have never worked with before, tackling on-site and online work, having issues with work-private life balance and health concerns. We know there is more work, more pressure for educators, and we must ask ourselves how we address this, as unions, what do we have in our toolbox to help our members.”

She mentioned that, while some education unions have opened doors that were closed previously, others have seen doors slammed on their faces more than before. “We want to collect ideas on how we approach this, to know what the opportunities are, and what are the challenges,” she said.

Latin America: Unions and citizens bravely fighting for their rights and education

In her presentation, Fatima da Silva, Vice-President of the Education International Latin America Regional Committee, stressed that Brazil is undergoing a lack of government. The federal government is in denial about the pandemic and behaves as if it does not exist, she said.

“If there are fewer deaths now, it is because the Supreme Court has called for decentralised action, it was the only way to proceed in Brazil to take action against the COVID-19 crisis. Over 3,000 deaths per day are due to Brazil being a federal state,” she said.

States in the north-east of Brazil have formed a consortium to deal with the pandemic, with scientists and other entities regarding education and labour issues.

Da Silva’s union, the Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores em Educação (CNTE) is “fighting with the parents, with the students, trying to give a voice to all of us in order to go back to school in a safe way”.

Up to now, the elite has demanded that the economy remain open and has oppose measures taken against the spread of the virus by local government. But now, people on higher incomes are experiencing a lack of beds in hospitals, so they are finally pressuring the government to modify its actions.

“Only with the current federal government gone will we have another policy to preserve lives,” she said. “We are in a conflict with authorities, fighting for executive power, for judicial power and law-making. In the middle of this fight, people are dying of hunger because of huge unemployment rates.”

It has been a difficult time in terms of labour relations, she explained. In many municipalities, teachers have been laid off, with a huge impact in the private sector in Brazil. Workwise, educators work much more now, sometimes burning out.

However, there is hope, she underlined, thanking Education International and its affiliates that demanded a fair trial for and an immediate release of former Brazilian President Lula da Silva.

Da Silva concluded by saying that, across Latin America, people are fighting bravely for their rights and education.

Africa: Struggle to ensure quality remote education and respect for basic rights

The Chairperson of the Education International Africa Regional Committee (EIARC), Christian Addai Poku, presented the results of a study undertaken for the Education International Africa region, “COVID-19 and education: How education unions are responding”. Fifty-four unions from 34 African countries took part in the survey.

The study showed that:

  • Almost all governments decided to close schools and tertiary education institutions as part of the strategies to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Distance education programmes have not been effective – Only a privileged few have access to online education
  • Sexual violence, teenage pregnancies, and early marriages have increased
  • Teachers lack necessary skills, training, and support to deliver distance and virtual teaching and learning
  • Social dialogue has not always been regular, genuine, or effective
  • Educators and their unions have taken concrete measures to respond to the crisis
  • Too few measures have been taken by governments to ensure the health and wellbeing of teachers, education support personnel, and students

Teachers and education support personnel were affected in various degrees in terms of salary and conditions of service, Addai Poku said. He highlighted how 92 per cent of African education unions engaged in activities to raise awareness among members, 72 per cent in social dialogue with the government, and 38 per cent developed tools for their members.

In a majority of cases, African unions were consulted, and their views sometimes taken into consideration, he reported.

He went on to condemn increased attacks on schools and kidnapping of teachers, education support personnel, and students in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Ethiopia.

He also mentioned severe attacks against human and trade union rights in Kenya and Djibouti.

He recalled that, at its last meeting, the EIARC had urged regional governments to act swiftly to ensure decent living and working conditions for educators. The committee adopted three key resolutions to protect quality education and teachers:

“Education International should continue to provide member organisations with capacity building, resources, tools and evidence, condemn attacks on school, kidnapping of students and killing of teachers and education support personnel and push governments to act,” the African education leader said.

He also called on Education International’s affiliates to make union renewal a priority and denounce violations of trade unions.

Education International: Solidarity

Summarising main takeaways from this online meeting, Holst explained that Education International “will take everything you have contributed, analyse it and see what we can do”.

She stressed the need to show solidarity for each other when colleagues are in difficult situations, as individuals or as member organisations, as is the case for the Kenya National Union of Teachers, under threat of being dismantled.

“Let’s continue to voice each other’s challenges, voice support, and we will continue to be strong together,” she concluded.

This was the second in a series of Education International webinars to take place in recent months on issues related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education. The third webinar in the series will be held on 6 May and will focus on the implications of the pandemic on contractual conditions of employment for teachers and education support personnel.