The agenda of the 52nd Education International Executive board meeting covered a wide range of topics that are going to be key in four months at the organisation’s key political event, its Congress.
The EI Executive Board is the elected governing body that directs the affairs and activities of EI between its World Congresses. EI held its 52nd meeting from 2-4 April in Brussels, Belgium, with members examining items for the EI 8th World Congress that will take place in Bangkok, Thailand, at the end of July.
The board debated a resolution on democracy that is central to that key priority off EI’s policy in the years to come. Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst, who presented the text, stressed the importance of the defence of democracy in the face of authoritarianism, and racist movements. She emphasized the role that education plays in countering these socially dangerous trends, and underlined the importance of Congress adopting such a resolution.
Human rights and education
Holst as well as EI General Secretary David Edwards, made it clear that human rights and education go hand in hand. From its work in the area of gender equality to the respect for indigenous peoples’ culture and language, to the whole range of human rights and rule of law issues, educators and their unions are on the frontlines of the defence of human rights.
“We can speak truth to power because we are an independent organisation that relies on its members,” Edwards said. He was joined by AFT president Randi Weingarten, who recalled that many EI members were “fighting for their lives. We have to be there to support our brothers and sisters,” she concluded.
The Executive Board held an action in solidarity with fellow colleagues from the ACT Philippines, who are being harassed, placed under surveillance and persecuted. Executive Board members posed with signs reading “hands off our colleagues” after Raymond Basilio, ACT General Secretary provided a moving account of the dangerous situation he and his family and other trade unionists experience every day. “There is nothing wrong when we protect human rights. When we demand that teachers be treated as human beings. We continue the struggle with you,” he said. He also observed that teachers in the Philippines are, “underpaid, overworked, and under surveillance”.
In his progress report, David Edwards highlighted some achievements of EI and its member organisations. Edwards cited progress over the past five months. These included several launches of research on inclusion, including of disabled persons, privatisation, refugees and migrants and the status of teachers. He also discussed policy conferences in Africa, Europe and Asia; and the first-ever” International Day of Education.”
The future of work
Tim Noonan spoke on behalf of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). 2019 is the centennial anniversary of the creation of the ILO, and the international union movement will take this opportunity to demand a universal labour guarantee for all workers, independently of their work relationship. He also explained the work of the Commission on the Future of Work that was established by the ILO, pointing out that the global economy needed a “reset to make it work for people”.
Noonan addressed several other topics of concern for international labour such as the digitalisation and datafication of work and the need for a regulation thereof. A rapidly changing world “needs a new social contract fit for the 21st century and we are going to deliver it at the ILO this year in June,” he said.
Assibi Napoe, director of the Africa regional office of EI, presented an overview of the region from an education and trade union perspective. She stressed the urgent need for cooperation in those countries or regions affected by natural disasters, famine or conflict. Napoe highlighted some of the challenges faced by trade unions on the ground, such as fragmentation or the lack of young members, as well as institutional barriers such as an under-developed social dialogue system in some countries.
In terms of access to education, Africa is a continent that embodies the most severe challenges faced both by teachers and students. With 1100 closed schools in Burkina Faso, 750 in Mali and over 100 in Niger, many children do not have access to any education. Overall, in Africa one third of 12-14 year olds are out of school. The system lacks over one million teachers and adequate funding to tackle this and other infrastructural issues.