Confronted with turbulent times for teachers, educational staff and their trade unions, delegates at the Special Conference of the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), the European region of Education International (EI), took a pro-active stand and reasserted their will to mobilise and organise for quality public education, for the benefit of students, and improved status for the education professionals, key elements to inclusive, peaceful, democratic and sustainable societies.
The event took place from 5-6 July 2022, in Liège, Belgium. Participants were welcomed by the Minister of education of the German-speaking region of Belgium and by the leaders of the Belgian ETUCE member organisations.
Stefaan Hermans, Director of Policy Strategy and Evaluation in the DG for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture of the European Commission, emphasised the importance of social dialogue, enshrined in the European Treaty, and representing “a fundamental element of the democratic societies we live in”.
In his keynote address, Education International’s General Secretary David Edwards informed that at the invitation of the UN Secretary General, EI is joining with civil society, students, the UN and other international organisations to put the fight for a sustainable future back on track, beginning with a new deal for teachers and all educators that ensures the requisite conditions for transformation.
The adopted resolution on the Conference theme reflects that education trade unions must mobilise along the demands for quality and inclusive education. ETUCE President Larry Flanagan explained: “There must be pressure on politicians, and they must be made aware. As teachers, we must make our demands heard and safeguard the values of democracy. Our expertise must be imprinted in education policy, as teachers know best what teachers need.”
Hermans was then joined by Evelyne Léonard, Professor at the Louvain School of Management in Belgium, for a panel discussion on boosting social dialogue for quality education. For Léonard, “social dialogue can be a game changer” and “provides an opportunity for institutional innovation for an inclusive and sustainable society.”
Day one of the Special Conference ended with the official launch of an exhibition of education union posters, and with the Kounka Damianova Award ceremony. For 2022, recipients are Borka Visnic of the Teachers Union of Serbia (TUS) and Dorota Obidniak of the Polish Związek Nauczycielstwa Polskiego (ZNP).
The adopted Policy Paper on Raising the Status and Improving the Attractiveness of the Teaching Profession contains ten key messages to improve the status and attractiveness of the teaching profession in all education sectors.
In her keynote speech , Kristin Vanlommel, Professor and member of the Research Group Learning and Innovation at the University of Applied Sciences in Utrecht, The Netherlands, explained that “digitalisation is complex and brings educational change. It involves different actors, with diverse ideas concerning the direction of the change. You need to be agile and responsive.”
Connecting to the conference online, Georgiy Trukhanov, Chairman of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers of Ukraine explained the recent developments regarding the devastating situation of teachers and students in his country, and informed that his union had found an agreement with the national education ministry, including the prohibition of dismissal, maintaining the average salary and the right to work remotely from other regions or from abroad.
Delegates showed solidarity with Ukrainian educators, saying: “Solidarity makes us strong. We want a peaceful and just world. War on war!”; or “As educators, we are committed to teach peace. We oppose violation of human rights on any possible ground”. They unanimously approved the Resolution for Peace in Ukraine.
Speaking on citizenship and inclusion, Catherine Lowry-O'Neill, lecturer at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland, inspired participants: “Hold on to your dream of democracy, peace and inclusion. Keep the flame of passion, hope and courage burning for the children in your classrooms.”
ETUCE Committee member Rob Copeland, welcomed guest speakers Matteo Vespa, President of the European Students’ Union, and Ulrike Pisiotis, Policy Officer in the schools unit of the European Commission’s DG for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture. They stressed that “upskilling and reskilling is important when we speak about environmental sustainability through education” and that “there has definitively been progress made in the last years on bringing environmental sustainability in training and education systems”.