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Challenges and conditions of teaching profession at heart of international debate

Education International and its affiliates ensure that the voice of educators is heard loud and clear at this year’s International Labour Conference in Switzerland.

The conference, from 10 to 21 June, in Geneva, is attended by a delegation led by Education International (EI) and comprised leaders from EI member organisations from Argentina, Botswana, Bermuda, Brazil, Ethiopia, France, Gabon, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Senegal, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Global challenges

Yamile Socolovsky, from EI’s Argentinian affiliate, CONADU, addressed the International Labour Conference (ILC) Plenary on behalf of EI. She said the fundamental mission of the International Labour Organisation was to guarantee social justice. However, “the world is very far from being at peace”, Socolovsky said.

She went on to highlight global challenges such as rampant inequality, climate change, new forms of slavery, racism and xenophobia, gender-based violence, authoritarian populism and the questioning of the postwar social contract.

Future of work

“The debate on the future of work calls for a debate on our present and how we want to achieve dignity and freedom for everybody,” Socolovsky told attendees. She highlighted the key role of quality public education as the basis of democratic societies and an active and solidary citizenry.

Socolovsky also raised the “alarming state of the teaching profession”, describing the status of teachers as “precarious, endangered by the privatisation and commodification of education and knowledge”. She underlined the importance of a sound collective bargaining system for the existence of a thriving education system. “While the present state of the world of work throws shadows on the future, it is the strength of an organised and collective workers’ voice that brings us hope. Education unions will continue to fight for public education as a human right and as the basis for just and democratic societies,” she concluded.

Discussion on CEART report

The report of the Committee of Experts on the Application of the Recommendations concerning Teaching Personnel (CEART) was discussed at the Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS). Addressing the Committee on behalf of EI and in representation of the workers’ group, Wilson Sossion from the Kenya National Union of Teachers condemned the low status of the profession globally and the teacher shortage affecting many countries. He reasserted the crucial role of “education as a fundamental human right, a cornerstone of democracy and an equaliser for social justice”. And he highlightedthe lack of rights for education workers in countries such as Iran, the Philippines, Swaziland, and Turkey.

“The future of work for teachers is a broader challenge than simply learning a new discipline. The role of teachers goes beyond merely imparting skills. Education’s role is to develop the whole person. Tomorrow’s jobs will require an understanding of the complexities of our societies, manage the overflow of information, think critically, adapt creatively to changing environments, and collaboratewith others from diverse backgrounds and across cultures,” Sossion said.

Sossion reaffirmed the importance of Recommendations 1966 and 1997 for teachers and highlighted the main findings of the CEART report presented on 5 October last year: a deterioration of democracy, attacks on academic freedom and professional autonomy, precarious work and teachers’ health, social discrimination against teachers, freedom of expression.

“While 69 million new teachers are needed to only achieve quality primary and secondary education for all by 2030, teaching continues to be a profession of low prestige. Education workers are employed on precarious contracts with poor service conditions and salaries, with increasing workload and little access to professional development opportunities. There continues to be pressure on teachers to focus on learning outcomes and the employability of students, driven by an economic agenda which overrides the discourse around education as a fundamental human right, a cornerstone of democracy and an equaliser for social justice,” he concluded.

CAS - Country cases

The final list of 25 countries to be debated at the CAS was decided on Tuesday, 11 June.

The CAS opened with the case of Turkey, where EI’s affiliate, Eğitim Sen, is heavily impacted by the repression following the 2016 failed coup. Özgür Bozdogan, Eğitim Sen’s Education Secretary, highlighted the dismissals, suspensions, arrests, forced transfers, discrimination and intimidation faced by thousands of Turkish education workers. Velat Kaya, Eğitim Sen General Secretary, has been subject to a travel ban following his arrest in May and was prevented from attending the ILC by the authorities.

EI and its affiliates will also contribute to discussions on the situation of teacher unions in Brazil, Ethiopia, Fiji, Honduras, the Philippines, Turkey and Zimbabwe.