Teachers chart their own way toward defining decent work

It’s often said that two heads are better than one, but in the case of teachers an entire profession is on hand to determine what education employment policy of the future should look like.

For the first time since Education International (EI) was founded in 1993, teachers and union leaders are making a collective effort to define a common core of demands and proposals that will shape the teaching profession of the future. The anticipated outcome of these proposals and ideas will be reflected in a policy paper for the organisation’s 8th World Congress in 2019, and in the creation of a platform that will act as an information and advocacy hub for teachers worldwide.

More than 60 participants from over 40 countries are in Brussels this week to collaborate on issues surrounding quality terms of employment for teachers and educators. These challenges range from the professional development of teachers and deprofessionalisation, standardisation, well-being, contract types and salary scales, legal assistance for teacher unionists and collective bargaining rights. These proposals will be summed up in a document written by teachers for teachers in the practice of advocacy worldwide.

David Edwards, EI Deputy General Secretary, praised the initiative as a “tact change,” led by members of the EI Brussels team, saying that “this is one of the most important things EI can do in the runup to its next Congress”. Labelling it as “a first step on a longer journey”, he emphasised the importance of defending “our profession, building a global force able to put pressure on decision makers, doing what is best for our societies, and sharing what is working for teachers”.

The event is taking place from 13 to 14 March in the heart of Brussels.

Educators will not let racial discrimination undermine refugees’ and migrants’ rights

To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Education International and its affiliates firmly reassert their commitment to provide teachers with classroom-ready material helping them to combat racism and xenophobia.

Every person is entitled to human rights without discrimination. This is a core belief for educators globally, who are also concerned that refugees and migrants are targets of racial profiling and incitement to hatred in too many countries.This position is being reaffirmed on the occasion of the 2017 International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, that is dedicated to fighting and raising awareness against “Racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration”.

EI conference

These views were also aired at the Education International (EI) conference, “Providing education to refugee children: fast track to equal opportunities and integration”, held from 21-22 November 2016 in Stockholm, Sweden. Indeed, many of the recommendations concerning policies and strategies to ensure access to quality education to all refugee and migrant children focus on combating racism and xenophobia.

Recommendations

Delegates specifically recommended the development of a “curriculum that is critical, culturally sensitive and inclusive and includes training for educators to avoid biases” and of “classroom-ready material that may be used by teachers to combat racism and xenophobia including media awareness and critical thinking”. This was adopted because the conference participants from 46 different countries were convinced that education is central to empowering refugees.

Stressing the need to “ensure that teachers’ professional standards of practice preclude racist and xenophobic activities”, delegates also made recommendation about the development of a global citizenship curriculum across disciplines and at all grade levels. This curriculum would foster “empowerment, understanding of and active respect for human rights and for actions that lead to sustainable development as articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals”.

UN Member States’ commitments

Education International and its member organisations also urge governments to implement the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted in September 2016. In this, United Nations’ Member States strongly condemned acts and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance against refugees and migrants. And they committed to a range of measures to counter such attitudes and behaviours, particularly regarding hate crimes, hate speech and racial violence.

Canadian receives Global Teacher Prize

Maggie MacDonnell of Quebec, and a member of Education International’s Quebec affiliate, CSQ, was selected from among 20,000 nominees worldwide at the Varkey Foundation’s Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai.

MacDonnell, a teacher in a fly-in Inuit village called Salluit, in the Canadian Arctic was recognised with the one million dollar prize at the annual education conference for her efforts in ‘transforming her community.’

With a population of just over 1,300, Salluit,  the second northernmost Inuit community in Quebec, cannot be reached by road, only by air. In winter temperatures are minus 25C. There were six suicides in 2015, all affecting young males between the ages of 18 and 25. Each of them had a profound impact on MacDonnell.

“As a teacher, when I come to school the morning after there is an empty desk in that classroom. There is stillness and silence,” she said during her acceptance remarks. “Thank you for bringing global attention to them,” she added.

MacDonnell grew up in rural Nova Scotia and after completing her Bachelors degree, spent five years volunteering and working in Sub Saharan Africa, largely in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention. After completing her Masters degree she found her country was beginning to wake up to the decades of abuse that Canadian Indigenous people have lived through, including assaults on the environment and enormous economic and social inequality.

“We are very proud of the honour given to Maggie McDonnell,” said Daniel B. Lafrenière, the CSQ Secretary-Treasurer and Executive Board Member of Education International (EI). “Her passion, drive and commitment are characteristics that she was able to offer the youth of Northern Quebec.”

A member of the CSQ affiliate the Association des employés du nord québécois, MacDonnell intends to use the money to establish an NGO.

The award was set up three years ago by the Dubai-based Varkey Foundation. The prize is paid in instalments and requires the winner to remain a teacher for at least five years

Brazilians launch indefinite strike against pension reform

The Confederación Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación joined massive protests in Brazil on Wednesday, 15 March to oppose the pension system reform proposed by President Michel Temer’s interim government.

The protests took place in over 23 state capitals across the country. Joining the Confederación Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE) call for action were a number of other rural workers’, social and union movements from other branches. The CNTE managed to achieve a 98% participation rate from affiliated organisations in different states across the country.

The CNTE, affiliated with Education International (EI), has called on the entire educational community to join in an indefinite strike now underway.

The CNTE General Secretary and EI Latin America Regional Committee Vice-President Fátima Silva consider Wednesday’s movement a success.

“Several municipalities that we were not expecting to join also participated in the strike. Today, Brazil’s education system is completely paralysed, along with various other sectors”, stated Silva.

The government reform seeks to benefit financial systems, bankers and the legislators who cut deals in order to finance their campaigns, stated Silva as the day of protest commenced in Brazil.

For CNTE President Heleno Araújo, what happened in Brasilia is testament to the uprisings that are taking place all over the country.

“We are the majority in this country, a majority that produces wealth, a majority that puts food on the table for every person here. We cannot allow a mere three hundred people who represent the minority to change labour laws and impose this pension reform”, stated Araújo.

The CNTE President considers these to be rights that have been won with much struggle, and “we cannot let them be wiped out like this”.

Within each state, district or municipality, every union affiliated with the CNTE will debate demands with managers and society at large in order to involve the entire educational community in a public commitment to valuing the public education system and those who work in it.

Armenia and Malta, 60th and 61st countries to endorse Safe Schools Declaration

Education International has welcomed the move by Armenia and Malta to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, committing itself to protect students, teachers, schools, and universities during times of war.

Education International (EI) and its affiliates congratulate Armenia and Malta’s governments for becoming respectively on 22 and 24 March the 60th and 61st countries to endorse the international political commitment known as the Safe Schools Declaration.The commendation was issued by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), an inter-agency coalition formed in 2010 to address the issue of targeted attacks on education during armed conflict.

International support

Armenia’s endorsement means that the majority of Council of Europe member states have now endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration. Also, Malta’s endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration is particularly timely as it currently holds the presidency of the European Union.

This Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that facilitates countries to express support for protecting students, teachers, schools, and universities from attack during times of armed conflict. It stresses the importance of continuing education during armed conflict.

By joining the Declaration, countries pledge to restore access to education when schools are bombed, burned, and destroyed during armed conflict, and undertake to make it less likely that students, teachers, and schools will be attacked in the first place. They agree to deter such violence by promising to investigate and prosecute war crimes involving schools, and to minimise the use of schools for military purposes so they do not become targets for attack.

Background

The Declaration was developed through consultations with states in a process led by Norway and Argentina in Geneva, Switzerland, and opened for endorsement at the Oslo Conference on Safe Schools in 2015. This latest endorsement occurs just before the Second International Safe Schools Conference, to be co-hosted by the Argentine ministries of foreign affairs and defense in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 28-29 March.The Conference will gather representatives of over 60 states to discuss ways to better implement the Declaration, including by incorporating the Guidelines to Protect Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict into military doctrine; improving monitoring and reporting of attacks; investigating education-related violations of humanitarian and human rights law; supporting conflict-sensitive education policies; and introducing measures to better ensure the continuation of safe education during conflict.

Hungary: EI deeply concerned about impact of new legislation on academic freedom

The global educators’ community condemns the adoption of legislative amendments proposed by Hungary’s government, endangering the independence of the Central European University and, consequently, fundamental pillars of all democracy.

Education International (EI), via a letter from its General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen to the Hungarian Minister of Human Capacities, Zoltán Balog, issued on 4 April, had already expressed its deep concerns regarding the changes to Hungary’s Act CCIV on National Higher Education threatening the operation of the Central European University (CEU) as a free and independent international graduate university impossible.

For 25 years, the CEU has played a global role in advancing knowledge and scientific inquiry, van Leeuwen noted. The CEU welcomes students, faculty, and staff from around the world, bringing new knowledge, talent, and skills to higher education and research for the benefit of Hungary and the more than 100 countries that form part of the CEU community, he stressed.

Underlining that academic freedom and university autonomy are “fundamental pillars of all democratic societies”, the letter highlights that these proposed legislative changes would “undermine those pillars and set a dangerous precedent for other institutions in Hungary”.

EI is strongly urging Hungary’s public authorities to immediately withdraw the changes.

Australia: Disadvantaged students hit by resource shortages

Australian schools are significantly under-resourced, affecting student performance, according to newly released international data, demonstrating the importance of Gonski needs-based funding to ensure all schools have the resources they need.

Gaps in resources in Australian schools hits disadvantaged students in particular. This is just one finding from the expanded versions of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement’s Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The in-depth versions of the PISA and TIMSS reports compare the performance of school systems across developed countries.

“The new data confirms that the gap in results between students from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds in Australia is the equivalent of around three years of schooling,” highlighted Correna Haythorpe, Federal President of the Australian Education Union (AEU). It also shows “the dramatic gaps in resources” that are contributing to this, she noted. “How can these students be expected to achieve when they are in schools that don’t have the basic resources for their education?”

Specific disadvantage

The data illustrates how the education deficit is linked to resource shortages in schools which educate disadvantaged students. Indeed, Haythorpe said school leaders reported that:

·         55 percent of students attended schools where maths teaching was affected by a lack of resourcing

·         69 percent attended schools where science teaching was affected

·         34 percent of low-Student Experience Survey (SES – the only comprehensive survey of current higher education students in Australia) students were at schools where inadequate infrastructure hindered their capacity to provide instruction, compared with 12 per cent of high-SES students

Australian students in the lowest SES-quartile are six times more likely to be in schools with shortages of qualified teachers or support staff, data shows. “This is a stunning demonstration of how under-resourced our schools are and how these shortages add to the barriers facing disadvantaged students,” Haythorpe said.

Gonski

She also emphasised that the plan of Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, “to scrap Gonski needs-based funding after 2017 means that many schools will never reach the resource standard they need for their students”. Turnbull needs to abandon his plan to scrap Gonski after 2017 and give schools the full investment of six years of targeted funding, so that all schools can reach the minimum Schooling Resource Standard which the Gonski Review recommended, she urged.

Haythorpe highlighted how previous PISA reports show that school systems with more equitable funding distributions perform better overall.

 

UK: Unions demand appropriate reform of primary school assessment system

The UK Government is consulting teachers’ unions on its proposals to reform the system of primary school assessment, which have given a mixed reaction to the government’s proposals for reform.

The proposals were outlined by Education Secretary, Justine Greening, at the end of March and the consultation process is now getting underway.

NASUWT: Need to reduce workload and bureaucracy

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) has said that, in a context of already unsustainable teachers’ workloads, the Government will need to demonstrate that its proposals will reduce that workload and current bureaucratic burdens on primary teachers and headteachers. This should “enable them to focus on their core responsibilities for teaching and leading teaching and learning,” said NASUWT General Secretary, Chris Keates.

“As well as workload and bureaucracy, teachers are also concerned about the impact of assessment arrangements on pupils’ access to ‘a broad and balanced’ curriculum,” she added. “Indeed, the NASUWT will be studying the detail of these proposals carefully and will want to see assessment arrangements that will be fit for purpose for teachers and for students”.

NUT: For a system supporting children and teachers

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) believes the current primary assessment system is broken. “Almost 50 per cent of 11-year-olds were labelled failures last year as a result of badly designed and poorly implemented tests,” said NUT General Secretary Kevin Courtney. NUT members “want a system that supports children to achieve their potential, gives useful information to parents and teachers and does not narrow the school curriculum”.

The Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening “has been listening – but only partially”, he acknowledged. The consultation floats the idea that statutory assessment at Key Stage 1 (KS1, when students are usually aged between five and seven) will be set aside, but not until the early 2020s. This “would be a welcome concession to the thousands of teachers who have protested against the effects of a test-driven curriculum on six and seven-year-olds”.

However, “the relief that is offered at one stage of education is accompanied by changes for the worse for younger age groups”, he highlighted. This is because the Department for Education (DfE) wants to reintroduce baseline testing to the early years, believing that the test results of a five-year-old can reasonably predict their performance at 11, so that the school system can be held to account if children do not make the ‘expected’ progress. “In fact, there is a wealth of evidence that points the other way,” he said. “In pursuit of this unattainable goal, the DfE seems willing to inflict damage on the education of four and five-year-olds,” he warned.

The NUT will engage with the consultation process – and continue to work for deeper change. “Parents, heads, teachers and children need a system of assessment and accountability which works for everyone,” Courtney asserted.

USA: Educators mourn victims of yet another shooting in a school

A police car is seen in front of the gate of North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino of California, the United States, on April 10, 2017. © Reporters / Photoshot

The education community in the United States has expressed its grief at yet another shooting in a school in their country.

A gunman had entered North Park Elementary School in San Bernadino, California, as a visitor, keeping his weapon hidden, before opening fire in a classroom where 15 children with special needs were being taught. He killed the class’ teacher – his estranged wife –, fatally wounding an 8-year-old pupil while doing so, and subsequently committed suicide.

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia extended her “deepest condolences to the families forever changed by this tragedy”

New Zealand: a voice for the “silent army” of education support personnel

Together with Education International’s Antonia Wulff, Jane Porter, from the New Zealand Educational Institute – Te Riu Roa discusses challenges for the education support personnel to see their contribution to quality education for all acknowledged.

In the latest episode of EdVoices, the podcast series from Education International (EI), Jane Porter, who leads campaigns for the New Zealand Educational Institute – Te Riu Roa (NZEI) and is a member of the Education International (EI) Education Support Personnel (ESP) Task Force reminds that, in every school, teams of education support personnel work alongside teachers to ensure that all students have the opportunity of a quality education, but too often their work and contributions remain out of sight.

“In New Zealand, we often call them the silent army, they really make sure that those in education institutions can operate and children get support to learn,” she says.

ESP: “very broad categories” of workers in education

Porter explains that because ESP are “very broad categories” of workers in education, over 200 categories in her country alone, they are integral but overlooked in the broader debate surrounding public education systems.

“Everyone knows that you go to school and you have a teacher,” she says, but ESP is an area that has developed in an ad hoc way. “It’s a group that’s evolved because of need but not because of deliberate planning.”

Noting what she refers to as the “emerging role” of ESP in helping students with special educational needs, she explains that, while some job categories, such as school psychologists, librarians or school secretaries, find it easy to fall into the education community, for others it is more challenging to find a place in that community.

“We focus narrowly on tasks, and should focus of what ESP bring to learning,” Porter underlines, insisting that the EI task force very much focuses on the angle of learning, rather than teachers. “Support staff are not here to support teachers, they are here to support education, to support learning.”