Education International
Education International

Central and Eastern Europe: Teachers united for quality education

published 6 October 2008 updated 6 October 2008

Teachers from across Central and Eastern Europe are reaching out to colleagues facing difficult circumstances in Georgia, Montenegro and Turkey. Representatives of 26 organisations from 17 countries met in Zagreb, Croatia, from 2-4 October.

They expressed solidarity for all the teachers, students and families adversely affected by the conflict in Georgia. They also expressed support for the efforts of Georgian teachers to reopen the schools and other educational institutions which were used as refugee centres and to provide assistance to teachers and their families who were displaced by the conflict.

Participants also declared their support for fellow teacher trade unionists in Montenegro, whose independent union is being undermined by the Government. EI will refer this breach of basic trade union rights to the International Labour Organisation, and will provide assistance to its member organisation to resist this development.

Representatives of the Turkish teacher trade union, EGITIM SEN, reported that the government has blocked its website because it published material criticising the dissemination in schools of material promoting Creationism. Recognising the essential part websites play in modern communications, the participants condemned such blatant attacks on freedom of expression and civil liberties, and demanded that access for the union to use its website be restored immediately.

Dr. Dragan Primorac, Minister for Science, Education and Sport of Croatia, described the progress to date in developing a modern effective public education system in Croatia. He emphasised the importance to the government of working in collaboration with the education unions.

The annual Round Table was organised by EI with the assistance of its member organisation, TUWPSEC. The President of the union, Bozena Strugar, emphasised the important opportunity it gave to teachers in Croatia to discuss their objectives with, and present their achievements to, their European colleagues.

Participants considered a number of presentations on the theme of “Quality Teachers, Quality Education.” Charlie Lennon, EI Deputy General Secretary, pointed out the great disparity between the rates at which the countries in Central and Eastern Europe are developing. The countries that have gained entry to the European Union, or are on its short list for membership and can access support for social and economic development, are developing more rapidly than others.

The focus of the round table was the vital contribution teachers make to quality public education. The keynote address by Guntars Catlaks, EI’s Research Coordinator, emphasised that teachers must receive quality preparation through proper teacher education and training. However, he also stressed that, in order to retain quality teachers, they must also be well rewarded and supported in terms of decent salaries and working conditions.

The programme also dealt with early childhood education, which is now acknowledged as fundamental to child development. EI Coordinator, Dennis Sinyolo, reported on the steps being taken by EI to place a greater emphasis on policy development and advocacy in this area.

Monique Fouilhoux, EI Deputy General Secretary, moderated a sessionon higher education, which is undergoing a rapid change across Europe with a major emphasis on quality and costs. She also referred to the Mobility campaign which is a top priority within the Bologna process. She asked that all organisations support the joint EI/ESU “Lets Go’’ campaign by taking supportive action at national level and by signing the petition.

An interim report of a survey on pension reforms in Europe and their impact on women was presented by Vanja Ivosevic, the researcher who undertook the work for EI. The survey provides valuable information on this important topic which will assist EI and its member organisations in Europe in developing appropriate policies and strategies.

Arising from a request at the previous round table, the programme also dealt specifically with union organisation and negotiation skills. Barry Fawcett, training officer with the NUT in the UK, made a detailed presentation on union organisation and negotiation skills.

There was also a session on the most recent developments in education policy in the EU. This was presented by Martin Rømer, General Secretary of ETUCE. Intergovernmental bodies like the EU and the OECD have an increasing impact on national government policies on education, irrespective of whether or not the national government is a member of those bodies.

During the course of the Round Table the participants received formal reports from a number of representatives about specific developments in their countries, including Croatia, Hungary and Poland. They also received requests from member organisations in Georgia, Turkey and in Montenegro for specific support.

The Round Table concluded on Saturday, 4th October, with a celebration for World Teachers’ Day. Declaration:

The participants at the Round Table for member organisations from Central and Eastern European countries, meeting in Zagreb, from 2nd to 4th October declared that:

  1. governments should invest more in education services in times of economic difficulty in order to better prepare students for the world of work and to deal with the effects of such economic difficulty on their lives; governments should also defend education as a public service;
  2. high quality teacher education and training is critical to the provision of a quality education service; in order to retain quality teachers in service they must be provided with good salaries and conditions;
  3. early childhood education should be provided as of right as part of free public education available to all who wish to avail of it; governments should do more to motivate parents to avail of early childhood education facilities;
  4. teachers and students in Higher Education have a right to be mobile free of administrative visa and other obstacles; during their period abroad they have a right to full financial and social security and full recognition of their work or study upon their return to their home country;
  5. teacher unions should review their structures and organisation regularly to try to ensure that they are providing effective means through which to organise and represent their members;
  6. teacher unions should work together in each country to establish negotiating or bargaining machinery through which they may negotiate with their employers and governments;
  7. EI’s European region should provide specific training programmes for member organisations in the CEE countries in the development of their organisation and negotiation skills and processes.