Education unionists take stock of development cooperation in Asia-Pacific
During a Development Cooperation (DC) Café on Asia-Pacific held on 12 January, DC partners learnt about the accomplishments in the region in partnership with member organisations. Anand Singh, Director of the Education International Asia-Pacific (EIAP) regional office, reported on priorities and challenges faced by the region as well as activities undertaken in the region related to Education International’s strategic plan 2020-2023.
Trade union renewal
On trade union renewal, he said that the regional office supports affiliates to examine organisational relevance and strengthening their capacity to engage in social dialogue, building truly democratic and representative organisations.
He highlighted the launch of the report “Trade union transformation and the digital economy: the case of FMESU, Mongolia”, the newly initiated union renewal project in Fiji unions, as well as trade union transformation through capacity-building within the digital economy in India.
He also spoke about the John Thompson Fellowship Programme, which works on issues such as union leadership, negotiation, building strong union structures and communication.
Singh stressed that activities are targeted at promoting equality and the right to quality public education, empowering education unions to move towards unity and transformation, as well as developing the work on SDGs, equality, rights and democracy, increased public funding, climate change education, and reversing privatisation in education.
Human and trade union rights
Concerning rights and democracy, an anti-democratic agenda is advancing in most of the region – especially in Afghanistan, Myanmar and the Philippines –, and several Asia-Pacific countries ranked as the worst places for workers for the period 2018 to 2021, as per the International Trade Union Confederation’s Global Rights Index. Alongside other Global union federations, Education International maintained international pressure on anti-worker, anti-democratic governments through various urgent action appeals and supporting member organisations in affected countries. He added that shrinking civic spaces, anti-union policies, and various political pushbacks create a disabling environment for trade unions, i.e. violations of the right to organise and protest, repressive legislation and violence against unionists.
The regional office has also conducted regular evaluations of the women’s networks and gender equality work in the region. This includes revitalising gender networks; pushing a sister-led model, capacity building and mentorship; and mainstreaming gender equality in union policy and programmes.
The Asia-Pacific region is off-track in achieving the sustainable development goal (SDG) 4 and its targets, and gains have not been equitably distributed throughout the region, a fact aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Singh said.
The EIAP responses so far have been the following:
- Awareness-raising and capacity-building on the SDGs;
- Consultation on inputs to the Asia-Pacific Meeting on Education 2030;
- Information and solidarity meetings during the pandemic;
- Advocacy alliance to increase domestic financing of public education systems; and
- Education sector landscape studies.
The region also got heavily involved in the Education International campaign “Global Response to the Commercialisation and Privatisation in/of Education”.
In 2021, a research on Privatisation of Education: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic in Nepal was launched. It focused on undertaking actions, from policy review to policy advocacy, on educators’ rights, and on planning and organising training meetings at the Nepali provincial level.
Other anti-privatisation activities included continuous lobbying with parliamentarians, discussions with union members, and social media actions in The Philippines. Education International-led scoping research on “Commercial Activity in Pacific Education, ” which was released in 2019.
Concerning climate action and disaster preparedness, Singh stressed that relief was brought to disaster-affected communities in the region, and that Asia-Pacific education unionists joined a regional campaign, i.e. E4SD: Educators for Sustainable Development, similar to the Education International Teach for the Planet campaign.
In 2021, the regional office also launched in 2021 “Teach for Climate Action: An Advocacy Toolkit on Climate Change Education for Educators and Their Unions”, based largely on the Education International’s Manifesto on Quality Climate Change Education for All, and organised a virtual conference entitled “Mobilising Educators for Climate Change Education”.
Status of the teaching profession
On the future of work in the education sector, Singh told participants about various challenges: the abrupt shift to remote or online education modes upon school closures, increasing reliance on ed-tech, the gaping digital divide, and the lack of teachers’ continuous professional development opportunities for digital literacy training. He said that the EIAP-ILO study (2021) on the impact of the pandemic on education in the region reported lower levels of competence in digital technologies, and fears about teacher preparation for the future of work.
Decent work was also high on the EIAP agenda, for example with research on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education and teaching in Asia-Pacific (2021), which complemented the Education International 2021 Status of Teachers report.
On standards and professional leadership, he highlighted support provided by the EIAP to affiliates in raising countries’ teaching standards, as well as the regional four-hour segment during the 24-hour live event held on World Teachers’ Day 2020, featuring stories, reflections, and messages of solidarity from across the region, in line with the theme “Teachers: Leading in Crisis, Reimagining the Future”.
Partnerships and communication
Singh went on to speak of the EIAP’s close collaborations with:
- The International Trade Union Confederation, regional offices of global union federations, the International Labour Organization, UNESCO, UNICEF, and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization among others.
- Other collaborations with ActionAid, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Asia and Nepal, Global Alliance on Tax Justice, the regional Tax and Fiscal Justice, and the Asia People’s Movement on Debt and Development; and
- Some of Council of Pacific Educators’ partners.
The EIAP also strived to maximise social media platforms to connect with affiliates and engage a wider audience, top EIAP events in terms of social media post performance and audience engagement in previous years being:
- The 2020 24-hour online World Teachers’ Day celebration
- The 2021 EIAP conference on climate for educators and education unionists
- The 2022 9th EIAP Regional Conference, “Rebuilding the Asia-Pacific: Educators and their unions at the forefront towards a sustainable future”. It provided education trade unionists in the region and beyond with an extraordinary opportunity to connect, exchange experiences, new perspectives, fresh ideas, and delve deeper into achieving decent working conditions for all, quality education for all children as well as sustainable and a just future for all.
Singh concluded, “For education unionists in the Asia-Pacific region, holistic, comprehensive, and inclusive recovery post-pandemic requires rethinking existing education policies and envisioning a more sustainable future”.