Worlds of Education

#EI25: “25 Years Defending the Right to Education”, by Dr. Patrick Roach

published 3 October 2018 updated 5 December 2023
written by:

We should thank teachers for being educators but also for fighting to defend the rights of teachers and their students.

The importance of teachers is celebrated on 5th October each year on World Teachers Day. From our vantage point today, the idea of celebrating teachers may seem obvious. The ubiquitous greetings cards can be found in many shopping malls saying “Thank You, Teacher!” But, it wasn’t always so. The gift of the UN to Education International in 1993 was the gift of World Teachers Day.

In the 25 years since, we have had much cause to celebrate. Particularly prescient was our action to secure the commitments from countries worldwide to the goal of education. We should not forget that securing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) simply wouldn’t have happened without the work of unions, within Education International, around the world playing their part together with other progressive civil society organisations. But, perhaps even more telling was the action to keep the goal of education for all children and young people at the top of the global agenda, as today it is enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We know how close it came to governments rolling back on that commitment as if the MDGs was job done. With Education International, we were not going to let that happen, as our Unite for Quality Education campaign went from strength to strength, taking effect and taking hold. It was a campaign that was simply too important for us to fail.

But, despite many successes, we also recognise today how increasingly challenging and precarious is the terrain for teachers and educators. Privatisation, marketization, competition, standardised testing and new threats of digitisation and automation. For those of us who advocate for quality public education for all, we can see how imperilled our cause is.

And, today, we are still confronted by the outrage of a planet that has failed and continues to fail its children, denying millions their right to an education, particularly girls. We witness the plight of migrant and refugee children, with many denied the right to education, separated from families and under the most vicious political attacks and existential assault. And, we see the consequences played out daily of those teachers who dare to teach, those of our number who despite their selfless endeavour are threatened, vilified, abused and attacked. At enormous cost to themselves, they continue to demand a better future for the students they teach and we stand with them. In countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, the imprisonment of teachers has not silenced them. It is one of the greatest achievements of Education International and its members that we stand united in the face of these attacks.

In countries around the world where the rights of children and the rights of their teachers are being undermined, we are also witnessing an assault on civil society, a rolling back of our democratic space and institutions and the undermining of the values of tolerance, respect for others, community, as well as equality and diversity. There have been many points for reflection and for renewal of our mission over the course of the last 25 years. EI’s missions to some of the most dangerous places in the world for teachers have presented opportunities not only to bring about change in these countries, but also to deepen and refresh our mission back home.

We should be especially proud that as educators we are part of a global movement for change. Through our unions’ work together, we continue to be in the vanguard of an international effort to secure the rights of all children, everywhere. Through our refugee welcome schools programmes, industrial action campaigns, and lobbying of national and international institutions, it takes moral courage to do what members of Education International do every day to safeguard the voices and work of teachers and educators.

Teachers, educators and the member organisations which make Education International endeavour to open up the mental, physical, social and political space, working in pursuit of universal values, promoting global citizenship and solidarity and defying the borders of geography, culture and language. We must continue that task.

For many of our students, 25 years may seem like a lifetime. The world inhabited by the founders of Education International may seem distant from today; however, the struggle is the same - fighting to secure fundamental rights, the right to be educated and the right of teachers to teach.

On 26 January 1993, Education International was founded through the merger of the International Federation of Free Teachers’ Unions (IFFTU) and the World Organisation of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP). On the occasion of the 25th anniversary, a special series of blogs #EI25, will be published throughout the year, bringing together voices and thoughts of unionists, education activists, partner organisations and friends, reflecting on past struggles and accomplishments, from which the organisation has drawn strength and inspiration to address current and future challenges facing education and the teaching profession. If you want to contribute to the series, please write to Sonia.grigt@ei-ie.org.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.