Interview with David Edwards, Education International’s Deputy General Secretary

On the occasion of World Teachers' Day, the Deputy General Secretary of Education International, David Edwards highlighted the main challenges faced by workers in the education sector. In this interview, he explains also the role of social dialogue and international labour standards as well as Education International’ expectations vis-à-vis the ILO...

Press release | Bruxelles, Belgique | 05 October 2012

ACTRAV INFO: What is Education International’s (EI) perspective on this 2012 edition of World Teachers’ Day?

On this year’s World Teachers Day, we take a stand for teachers. In fact, we just launched a new EI-GCE campaign “Every Child Needs a Teacher: Trained Teacher For All” to emphasise the crucial role played by teachers in providing quality education. In the coming months, we will drive this campaign into every forum and space we can so that every child’s right to be educated by a qualified teacher is recognised.

EI has been continuously urging national governments to recruit more new teachers, to improve the quality of teaching and learning, to provide teachers with access to training opportunities and continued professional development, to improve the working conditions of teachers and create supportive teaching environments both for teachers and students. As we are getting closer to important deadlines on the international agenda, like the current process of defining the post-2015 agenda, EI is committed to bring these issues to light.

ACTRAV INFO: In the context of the current economic crisis and austerity measures, what are the main problems confronting teachers today?

The consequential austerity measures of the current economic crisis are exacerbating many of the problems that teachers currently face. Cuts in public funding for education are leading to: the dismissal of teachers and supporting educational staff at all levels of education, salary and/or pension cuts or freezes, a reduction in benefits, the curtailing of curricula, a deterioration in working conditions, and infringements upon trade union rights. We can see direct evidence of this not only in Europe, but also in the United States as well as Canada. We have also observed indirect effects on teachers, including attempts to subject teachers to evaluation based on their student performance in standardised tests.

In other regions, particularly in those countries that rely heavily on bilateral aid, the problems for teachers or education systems in general, may increase from reduced and non-predictable aid support programmes. Teacher shortage is currently a big issue, considering growing number of student enrolments and the fact that more than half of teachers required worldwide accounts for the sub-Saharan Africa’s needs only. Contract teachers are another related issue—a large number of contract teachers are currently employed within some education systems as an attempt to address the issue of teacher shortages; many have inadequate qualifications and have not undergone any training. They often earn only about a tenth of the salary of a regular civil servant teacher. This contractualisation of labour within education systems has serious implications for the quality and the professionalism of the sector; the inevitable results being huge gaps in quality teachers and teaching.

ACTRAV INFO: According to a new report “Every Child Needs a Teacher: Closing the Trained Teacher Gap” launched by the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) and EI, there are primary teacher gaps in 114 countries, undermining efforts to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of Education for All (EFA) by 2015. What are the main recommendations to improve the situation of workers, and, in particular teachers?

This report was launched on the eve of the launch of the UN Secretary-General's Education First initiative to call attention to the trained teacher gap. Indeed, an estimated 1.7 million more teachers are required to achieve the universal primary education by 2015.

The main recommendations are to develop and enforce high national standards of training in reference to international standards; ensure initial pre-service training for all new teachers, provide in-service training and professional development opportunities and that the teachers’ working conditions are decent (remuneration, working hours, working environment, pupil-to-teacher ratio etc).

In addition, we are calling national governments to allocate a minimum 6 per cent of GDP to education, 50% of this to basic education; and the bilateral donors to realign the ODA to commit at least 10% to basic education.

ACTRAV INFO: How social dialogue and respect for international labour standards are confronted in times of economic and financial crisis?

Social dialogue and respect for international labour standards have come under increasing pressure as a result of the economic crisis. Austerity measures taken by governments have jeopardized the collective bargaining rights of many unions worldwide.

The United States and Canada in particular have seen an assault on teacher unions and/or restrictions of collective bargaining rights in the public sector, such as in the cases of Ontario in Canada or Wisconsin in the United States. In Europe, most recently, Spanish teacher unions have suffered similar attacks as a result of austerity measures. Social instability and higher pay inequities are likely to result from weakening of teachers’ collective bargaining rights, and the erosion of teacher working conditions is deeply detrimental to the profession.

Looking beyond the economic crisis, teachers in recent years have also seen an increase in the violation of human rights as well as in their trade union rights. In numerous countries, governments have not yet implemented international legislation to protect the rights of trade unions.

A free and vibrant trade union movement is one of the most important pillars in a country’s democracy and a measure of a sound development. Over the last decades, teachers' trade unionists have gained a better position at the bargaining table. They have contributed to a free and fair society wherein public education is democratically controlled and reflects social diversity, justice and democratic values.

ACTRAV INFO: Which are EI's expectations from the ILO, under the leadership of Guy Ryder?

Although teachers’ trade unions had over the last decades achieved a better position at the bargaining table, recent years have seen the development or confirmation of worrying trends in violations of human and trade union rights of teacher organisations. Indeed, at the October triennial meeting of the Committee of Experts on the Application of the Recommendation concerning Teachers (CEART), EI will present a shadow report showing that confrontation is looming in the public sector, employment conditions for teachers are declining and collective agreements are being unilaterally revoked.

Coming back to the core mandate of the ILO, the ILO Conventions Nos. 87 and 98 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise and Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining are on the chopping board of austerity cuts. States that do not recognise fundamental labour standards to the citizens they employ allow a democratic deficit to emerge.

Quality education is the basis of democracy and social justice. EI fully supports the ILO initiatives to establish partnerships between governments, employers and workers’ organisations to turn commitments to decent youth employment into reality.

Furthermore, EI places special importance on ILO’s Sectoral Activities. The sectoral dimension of ILO’s work must be strengthened, as part of ILO’s strategic contribution, enabling unions, employers and governments to confront their visions, analyses and strategies. We look forward to helping ILO ensure that the standards of practice in the ILO Human Resources toolkit of Good Practices for the Teaching Profession make their way into reality and practice.

ILO's advantage having Guy Ryder is that they have someone who has been on the front lines of ensuring decent working conditions and tirelessly pushing for core labour standards. I know of few individuals the world over who can speak with such precision and authority about the cases of real human beings in places as diverse as Bahrain, Colombia or Fiji. I feel confident that education workers and all workers now have in common a shared benefit from his leadership, skills and principles.

Education International is the voice of teachers and other education employees across the globe. A federation of about 400 associations and unions in more than 170 countries and territories, it represents 30 million educators in education institutions from early childhood to university.