Education International research and advocacy strategy grows in context of COVID-19

published 2 November 2020 updated 12 November 2020

Education International brough over 170 scholars, experts, unionists, and activists together to explore how research can underpin advocacy for quality education. The global group met at the 15th Research Network (ResNet) online meeting on 28-29 October.

Technology and the future of the teaching profession were at the core of the discussions chaired by the Education International research team.

General Secretary David Edwards underlined the importance of research for Education International. “In the context of the exacerbation of the issues that we are facing right now, you shed light on what is happening so that actions can be taken”. This time is a moment of paradox, he said. The panacea of technology, promised for so long by private interests and some education critics, had been deceiving for students, teachers and parents when the COVID-19 crisis had imposed technology on school communities.

Pedagogy driven technology

The first day of ResNet revolved around the place of technology in education, especially in light of the COVID-19-driven school lockdowns. Participants shared their research on the matter and were presented with the main findings of Education International Research Institute’s (EIRI) latest study: “A Review of Technology in Teaching and Learning”, by Dr. Alison Egan from the Marino Institute of Education, Dublin, Ireland.

The study showcases how the introduction of technology in education creates a complex situation. While it allows access to education during school closures, it also forces teachers and learners to adapt, which is not always easy, and certainly not easy for everybody. And while talk about technology is taking up more and more space, pedagogy should remain the top priority of educators, with technology mostly underpinning it. The report includes recommendations around areas of concern such as pedagogy, teacher training, and continuous professional development.

Capacity to capture digital data

Dr Janja Komljenovic, lecturer in Higher Education, University of Lancaster, England,  shared important insights into higher education and educational platforms. “Digitalisation in and of education is part of the wider global order,” she said, underlining that the growth of digital platforms was linked to their capacity to capture digital data. She said that investment in the digital education sector was based on the concept of education as a service and on the economic potential of harvesting personal data through educational platforms. Komljenovic expressed concern over the lack of research and lack of enough regulation of data privacy. These issues have to be addressed by policy makers and education unions, she added.

Concerns around the use of technology in higher education

Yamile Socolovsky, international secretary of CONADU, Argentina, and member of Education International’s EIRI board shared her union’s analysis from the perspective of higher education. She linked the discussion to the work of Education International’s reference group on the future of work. She highlighted some major concerns around the use of technology in higher education, notably:

  • The reorganisation of teachers’ work
  • Increasingly precarious work and working conditions
  • Inequality issues including the particular difficulties faced by women

In the face of the insufficient response of public institutions to technology in education, Socolovsky stressed the importance of collective bargaining and of devising strategies to improve the situation for educators in higher education. She encouraged the audience to reflect on two questions: What technology does the education sector need, and what kind of education do we need to change the world?

Promoting professionalism

On the second day of the meeting, Haldis Holst, Deputy General Secretary at Education International, highlighted the importance of research for the organisation. She said Education International’s strategic plans were going to adapt to the COVID-19 situation and emphasised that the professionalism of educators - the theme of the second day of ResNet - was at the heart of the organisation’s work.

Holst also stressed the importance of teachers’ autonomy and safety when conducting their profession: “It is our role as unions to promote and enhance it”. She also paid tribute to Samuel Paty, the recently murdered French teacher. Finally, Holst encouraged member organisations to participate in the survey on the status of the teaching profession, which will inform Education International’s policies and practice.

Impact of pandemic

Dr. Marisol Vazquez Cuevas presented the results of an ongoing study on Teachers’ Professional Autonomy in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study addresses issues such as: is the pandemic having a positive or negative impact on teachers’ professional autonomy? Can the crisis be seen as an opportunity to highlight collaboration among teachers? How is the crisis affecting teachers’ leadership and autonomy?

Sam Sellar from the University of Manchester presented the findings of his study on assessments and teacher autonomy. He focused particularly on ‘next generation’ assessments, and on the responses that the profession can give at the level of research strategy. He encouraged unions and academics to organise in order to produce their own networks, their own research, and their own alternative technology assessment together with teachers. “We need alternatives to the imagery promoted by the ed-tech industry,” he stressed.

The research team at Education International, led by Martin Henry, presented new and ongoing research that will inform the organisation’s advocacy and policy strategies. These included research on gender equality in Latin America, on the privatisation and commercialisation of education, on teachers’ professional autonomy, and the ongoing status of teachers survey. Participants also discussed the future of the research network and how the strategy was aimed at fostering the research capacity of the regional offices, influencing teacher policy at different levels, using research for advocacy and promoting blended activism.

John Bangs, special consultant to Education International and chair of the TUAC education and skills advisory committee and a member of the EIRI, highlighted the importance of research for the organisation during and after the pandemic. Burning issues such as professional autonomy, curriculum, assessment, and pedagogy under technology were being tackled by the EIRI, he said. He reminded the audience that education was the most unionised of all sectors, and Education International studies had shown that this was because teachers believe unions can pull the policy levers that promote and protect the profession. “There is nothing inevitable about where we are going. Teachers and unions have agency,” he emphasised.