Act globally, research locally
Education researchers gathered at the 12th Research Network highlighted the need to collect evidence at global and regional levels linked to teachers’ working conditions and the negative impact of privatisation in education.
Research should be led by teacher unions or independent and empathetic researchers, was the message from Education International (EI)’s John Bangs as he welcomed the 60 participants to the Research Network (ResNet) gathering in Brussels, Belgium, from 11-12 May.
“Research to enhance education and inform policy should be in the hands of teachers’ unions, not in the hands of think tanks,” he said. Adding that trade unions have an enormous resource represented by their members, Bangs said that, together, EI and affiliates will determine during ResNet the focus that should be taken in terms of research for the coming years.
Bangs also hoped that participants would look at the possibility of triangular partnerships with NGOs and other organisations, and at establishing partnerships including bilateral partnerships with the EI Research unit or other affiliates.
Themes and studies
Education International’s Martin Henry stressed that the key themes to be debated at ResNet were quality education, equity in society, and teachers’ quality working conditions.
Nikola Wachter of EI also presented studies led by the organisation’s research unit in 2015, especially those tackling the growing privatisation and commercialisation of education worldwide. Key mentioned reports are: Creating a Supportive Working Environment in European Higher Education, Teachers Assessing Education For All - Perspectives From the Classroom, The Status of Teachers and the Teaching Profession, EI Briefing Note on Early Grade Reading Assessment, Pearson and PALF: the Mutating Giant,and The World Bank’s Doublespeak on Teachers – An analysis of 10 years.
The 7th EI World Congress held in July 2015 in Ottawa, Canada, adopted two research-related resolutions - Public research and science and academic freedom and Public research and the environmental crisis– that give EI and its affiliates a significant mandate in terms of research, with topics such as quality environments, terms of employment, school related gender-based violence, vocational education and training, young and early-stage teachers, researcher and education support personnel, said Henry.
Privatisation and teachers’ working conditions are the most important topics education unions are concerned with at regional level, explained Pedi Anawi from the EI Africa regional office (EIRAF).
Giving a presentation on Research capacity development in the Africa region and the regional RESNETs, he said that “unions need relevant data to build arguments for their advocacy, campaigns and lobbying agenda”.
In the Africa region, he added, research is used to: assist EI affiliate unions to addresses education and union issues specific to the Africa region; support the advancement of unions’ agenda on the right, and access, to quality education for all people through publicly-funded and regulated education systems; improve the status, human and trade union rights, and fair working conditions and pay for teachers; support the elimination of all forms of discrimination in education; and promote union unity in the education sector.
Getting in touch with those who are actually doing the research work - problems of reliable telephone/internet connection, time difference, power shortages, conflict with the researcher’s usual occupation - represent the key challenge met by the EIRAF in terms of research work, Anawi noted.
Stressing that the 2016 ResNet Africa meeting in November in Ghana will be used as an opportunity to revive the regional research network and research issues, he concluded by saying that “research, when well handled, is an efficient tool for advocacy, lobbying and campaigns”. He concluded: “There is no way unions in Africa can do without research if they are to be vibrant and efficient organisations” and “the capacity development of trade unions in research skills in the Africa Region constitutes a good investment”.
Christopher Yalukanda from the Zambia National Union of Teachers/Zambia gave a presentation on An analysis and comparison of the conditions of service for teachers in public and private primary schools in Zambia.
His study, he told ResNet participants, analyses and compares the conditions of services for teachers in public and private primary schools in the Zambia’s Lusaka district. And it investigates the professional qualifications of teachers in private schools and focuses on teachers in low and medium-cost primary schools.
The study findings inform unions, governments, and the private sector about teachers’ existing salaries and conditions of service, Yalukanda said. They should also contribute to the harmonisation of salaries - equal pay for equal work and qualifications – and promote unionisation of teachers in private schools and trade union rights. This will “help to demystify the poor perception attached to public schooling”, he said. Indeed, teachers in Zambia’s private schools are deemed to have better conditions of service and be better qualified than those in public schools.
Among the findings, Yalukanda underlined that: teachers in private schools are not unionised; no collective bargaining exists in private schools - all salaries and conditions of service being determined by the employers ; the majority of teachers’ salaries are below the minimum wage of 3,000 Zambian Kwacha (around €260) specified by Zambian industrial and labour laws; the majority of jobs are contractual and do not open rights to pension; most private schools are not respecting labour laws regarding 120 day-maternity leave for non-unionised workers; and most low- and medium-cost schools are not registered with the government and operate illegally.
ResNet participants are continuing their work, debating on strategies and frameworks for students, teachers and unions, as well as developing EI’s research programme and strategies.