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Palestine: development cooperation increases the capacities of early childhood educators’ union and improves their working conditions

The General Union of Workers in Kindergarten and Private Schools is enhancing its capacity to organise and represent early childhood education sector workers thanks to development cooperation with other education unions.

For the past several years, training sessions have been organised for the General Union of Workers in Kindergarten and Private Schools (GUWKPS), a young and growing teachers’ union in Palestine (formed in 2008) that joined Education International (EI) in 2015.

Training is ongoing, and includes contributions from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)/USA, Danish National Federation of Early Childhood and Youth Educators (BUPL), and the Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft/Germany. The project is coordinated by EI.

Thirty women early childhood education (ECE) teachers, members and non-members of GUWKPS, from all Palestinian regions came together for a training workshop organised from 25-27 April in Ramallah.

The ECE sector is not officially recognised yet in Palestine and there are no university studies preparing teachers for it nor is a curriculum agreed at ministerial level. Work in this sector is, in general, precarious and working conditions are poor. The majority of kindergarten teachers are women.

The workshop aimed to set standards for ECE teachers, help them have better working conditions, have their importance acknowledged nationally, have a curriculum put in place, and organise this education sector professionally.

Participants discussed the following topics:

-              The importance of national and global frameworks and instruments, including the International Labour Organisation (ILO) policy guidelines on the promotion of decent work for ECE personnel, and how these can be implemented at a country level;

-              Experiences and good practices in organising;

-              Current issues and challenges related to achieving inclusive quality early childhood education, and how to address them; and

-              What the members can do through the union, and current challenges.

Discussions emphasised the importance of collective action and the trade union’s social and political role.

Also, participants were adamant that the challenges hindering the achievement of quality ECE, including decent working conditions for ECE personnel, cannot be addressed unless ECE teachers mobilise and act collectively to form a strong union.

“Participants stressed that organising collectively with their colleagues through their union is the most effective way to bring about real change and move forward, and that education unions provide the space for such action,” GUWKPS General Secretary Mais Jamleh stressed. “They also gained a more in-depth understanding about what the union can do.”

Future actions and focus areas

Regarding the way the forward and based on the discussions and the challenges mentioned by participants, these are the areas that will be focused  on in the next phases:

  • Organising, union capacity building: via programmes helping GUWKPS members to develop strategies to strengthen the union;
  • Labour and trade union rights: although ECE institutions are regulated by the Ministry of Education, as they are overwhelmingly privately run – only 3 %, i.e. 1,854 ECE institutions, being public, their owners manage to get away with exploitative working conditions. Therefore, GUWKPS can play an important role in developing social security policy, pension reform for the private sector and a minimum salary. ;The ILO guidelines would help them in this respect;
  • Raising ECE teachers’ standards: as part of union advocacy, and building alliances with local universities to raise teachers’ qualifications with an emphasis on university degrees in ECE;
  • Advocacy and building alliances: raising awareness about the importance and the status of ECE teachers, particularly among parents and civil society; and
  • Professional development of ECE teachers, as part of the strategy to strengthen the union

All work priorities will include a gender equality component.