Asia-Pacific: Education leaders highlight challenges around rights, climate, and privatisation

published 14 February 2020 updated 19 February 2020

The Education International Asia-Pacific Regional Committee meeting focused on union responses to threats to human and trade union rights, the impact of climate change, and growing privatisation in education.

Public education is being threatened in many countries in the Asia-Pacific region. That was the message from Masaki Okajima, President of Education International’s Asia-Pacific (EIAP) Regional Committee and President of the Japan Teachers’ Union to the recent EIAP meeting.

Held from 1-2 February in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the meeting also heard Okajima stress that education unions should work with civil society organisations in implementing concrete measures to achieve inclusive quality education for all.

Human and trade union rights

EIAP Chief Regional Coordinator Anand Singh addressed the promotion and defence of human rights and democracy. He condemned the rise and persistence of state violations of basic rights in Hong Kong, India, and the Philippines. EIAP Committee members expressed their solidarity with their colleagues and the people in these countries, calling on the international community to support campaigns against rights violations and attacks on educators and other trade unionists.

The committee heard how members of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union have been specifically targeted amid the unrest reigning in their country, with the government accusing teachers of inciting students to protest. The Committee were also informed that the crackdown on the education sector in Hong Kong could involve censorship of curriculum content and even cuts to the education budget.

Raymond Basilio, EIAP Committee member and Secretary General of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers in the Philippines shared his experience and knowledge of the ongoing harassment and intimidation of education union leaders in his country. “The pressure exerted by Education International affiliates has helped us a lot,” he said, acknowledging the positive impact of international solidarity in raising awareness of the situation of rights his country. “Now the perpetrators know that the international community is watching them.”

Climate emergency

Correna Haythorpe, Vice-President of the EIAP Regional Committee and Federal President of the Australian Education Union, recalled the devastating bushfires that caused terrible loss in human lives, property, wildlife, forests and destroyed schools in Australia. Students and teachers have taken to the streets there to call for climate justice and action, criticising government officials for denying the link between the fires and climate change and for their refusal to respond to the crisis through adequate policy.

Neselinda Meta, EIAP Committee member and President of the Council of Pacific Education, expanded on the climate change theme with insights from the Pacific island nations. She highlighted how the Pacific faces extreme vulnerability, as rising sea levels and extreme weather conditions severely affect schools and livelihoods. She pushed for the inclusion of climate change in school curricula and in awareness campaigns within communities.

David Edwards, Education International General Secretary, highlighted the role of educators and their unions in responding to current climate challenges. “Education unions have a long-term responsibility, a vision of and clear answers to the issues of inequality, sustainability, and climate change,” he said. “And we are being recognised, we are breaking through, and we will continue to do so.”

The committee reaffirmed that EI’s member organisations must be united in responding to the urgency of climate action.

Privatisation in and of education

Education International member organisations in Nepal and the Philippines have joined the Global Response campaign to lead the fight against commercialisation and privatisation of education in their countries. The affiliates organised activities to convince union members, policymakers and the wider public to act against the poorly regulated entry of for-profit schools in education provision. In the Philippines, for instance, persistent action has led to successfully pushing the Department of Education to enforce its school standards on the APEC Schools, a joint venture between business giants Ayala Corporation and Pearson.

Sustainable Development Goal 4

Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 – ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning for all – remains a priority. In the Asia-Pacific region, the contribution of unions towards achieving it through the implementation, review, and monitoring of programmes is particularly important.

Regional education unions expressed their concern that the world’s governments are severely off track in terms of achieving this goal by 2030. The achievement deficit was assessed by educators in a 2019 Education International report. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific also explained that none of the Asia-Pacific subregions will meet any of the Sustainable Development Goal 4 targets if the present pace of progress is maintained.

EIAP annual report

The EIAP annual report was presented to the committee. It detailed how, in 2019, EI and affiliates in this region - 72 national organisations from 36 countries representing 7.7 million members - promoted and protected inclusive quality public education for all. They advanced the status and rights of teachers and education personnel, defended trade union rights and professional freedoms, and further strengthened union capacity.

EIAP activities included:

•Producing and forwarding recommendations to the 5th UNESCO Asia-Pacific Meeting on Education 2030

•Capacity building and awareness-raising campaigns among union members and the general public on human and trade union rights; gender and inclusion in education; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people’s rights and indigenous people’s rights

•Leadership training for unionists, from members to leaders, especially targeting young women leaders

For 2020-2023, the EIAP Committee plans to work towards:

•Actively engaging young members in unions and in Education International

•Integrating climate change education in school curricula and teacher education

•Strengthening institutional partnerships, specifically by promoting the status of the teaching profession, rights, and democratic values.