Education International
Education International

Working and learning conditions in decline

published 2 September 2009 updated 2 September 2009

Teachers’ working conditions around the world have deteriorated in recent years, mainly due to deep education funding cutbacks and increasing workload pressures, and the economic crisis is only likely to worsen the situation.

This is the unfortunate conclusion EI has reached after an extensive process of information gathering in preparation for a major report to the joint ILO/UNESCO Committee of Experts on the Application of the Recommendations concerning Teaching Personnel (CEART). Every three years, EI contributes a submission to the CEART based on information from member organisations, from EI’s own research and from a range of secondary reports and studies. This year’s report emphasises that teacher shortages remain a major challenge in education systems worldwide. To reach the goal of Education for All by 2015, 18 million more primary school teachers will be needed worldwide. Despite persistent teacher shortages, there are few measures in place to attract new qualified teachers into the profession. Unqualified teachers are often employed on low salaries and substandard working conditions, not only to reduce shortages, but also to limit education expenditures. Teachers’ salaries are often insufficient to maintain a reasonable standard of living. In developing countries some primary teachers’ income levels are close to, or even below the poverty line. In developed countries, teachers’ salaries may be lower than those for similar professions. EI reports that government consultation with teacher organisations has generally improved in a number of countries in Europe, North America, the Caribbean and in Asia. However, in some parts of Africa, notably Tunisia and Cameroon, governments refuse to consult with teachers’ unions. Particularly for contract teachers in developing countries, appropriate preparation for the teaching profession is either lacking or very brief, and in-service training is often haphazard. In contrast, in many countries of Europe and North America, teacher education is of a generally high level and possibilities for raising teachers’ qualifications and continuous professional development readily available. In Africa, academic freedom is respected in a number of countries, though in countries like Zimbabwe political repression has severely constrained academic freedom. In the Middle East, severe restrictions on academic freedom arise due to conflict. Increasing neo-liberal trends and entrepreneurial-style management in higher education have led to a restriction of academic freedom in some parts of Europe (e.g. Denmark) and Latin America (e.g. Colombia). Academic freedom for contract teachers is particularly curtailed due to the precarious nature of their employment. In addition, teachers are increasingly subject to violence and work in unsafe school environments. Political conflict and oppression has led to rampant violence against teachers in Colombia and the Middle East, while violence against teachers has also been reported in parts of Asia and Europe. Several countries, including those with a high HIV prevalence, still do not systematically include HIV and AIDS in teachers’ pre-service training or in school curricula, and have not developed an HIV and AIDS workplace policy for the education sector. EI has stressed to CEART that the 1966 UNESCO/ILO Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers and the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel are key international instruments to protect and defend teachers and quality education. However, implementation is poor across the globe, and educators are involved in a constant struggle to guarantee respect for their rights and working conditions as laid out in the recommendations. EI remains strong in its commitment to strive for the proper implementation of these recommendations around the world. By Angele Attard.

This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 31, September 2009.