Solidarity in times of crisis: the EI COVID Response Fund

published 27 October 2021 updated 13 October 2023

As the COVID-19 pandemic became global, education unions showed solidarity with a dedicated COVID Response Fund to support member organisations during school closures and where teachers were hit by the health crisis.

As the pandemic brought education systems to a halt, Education International (EI) and its members set themselves a goal: to help their colleagues in every country remain operational during the crisis, so that they could play their role in the development of effective national responses to the crisis.

To that end, EI established the EI COVID Response Fund (CRF) in April 2020 and issued an urgent action appeal for solidarity to its affiliates to gather funds. In May 2020, member organisations in need of support could submit their requests for help. Thanks to the contributions of member organisations and with a contribution of the EI Solidarity Fund, more than a quarter million euros were disbursed to member organisations in 26 countries, helping them limit the impact of the pandemic on their operational capacity.

Providing tangible support for member organisations

The support provided via the EI CRF has helped member organisations respond to pressing needs that emerged with the pandemic. They included the impact of lockdown measures on the union’s capacity to reach out to members, the collection of memberships fees, dealing with increased numbers of dismissed or unpaid teachers, especially in the private sector, and poor digital readiness to establish distance education. Long-term needs were also addressed as the crisis deepened. They covered some pre-existing problems like the digital divide; precarious, unsafe and unhealthy working conditions; the privatisation of education; gender-based violence; child labour; poor social and policy dialogue in the education sector, and other ongoing needs.

Making unions stronger despite the health crisis

The EI CRF supported member organisations’ efforts from Angola to Zimbabwe to collect evidence on the impact of the COVID outbreak on education systems and communities and to use it for advocacy purposes. Unions carried out surveys and consultations that allowed them to take stock of their affiliates’ needs. For instance, they could better understand the importance and impact of online education on their students.

Member organisations were also successful in grassroots mobilisation of teachers and school communities. Whether through awareness-raising meetings focusing on required sanitary measures in schools, acting against child labour and gender-based violence; through capacity-building workshops about on-line teaching or the provision of legal assistance - education unionists remained active and present on the ground. In some cases, initiatives led by the unions were joined by education and health authorities, increasing the impact of education unions in their communities, and helping them build efficient, constructive working relationships with their government counterparts.

Examples of union-led actions undertaken with the help of EI CRF can be found here