Uniting to advocate for the UN recommendations, fight fake news and promote peace education

published 8 April 2024 updated 22 April 2024

How can communications and campaigns work support unions in mobilising for increased investment in public education and educators, as well as social justice, human rights and democracy? This was at the heart of discussions during the latest Education International (EI) Communicators’ Network (ComNet) meeting.

UN Launches 59 Recommendations for the Teaching Profession: A Historic Moment

During the virtual meeting held from March 19th-20th, EI General Secretary David Edwards highlighted the significance of the 59 recommendations recently launched by the UN High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession. “I like to refer them as the 5 P's. They represent a Precedent. They put teachers and their union as a Priority. They are Pivotal, because we can build an organising campaign off these and because also the Possibilities it creates. And they are Public, because of the clear call for public education investment across all of them.”

This historic precedent, the first major document adopted by the UN in over 60 years, now requires a response from governments, he said. It sheds light on the global teacher shortage crisis and the threats facing the profession, while calling for immediate action to improve working conditions and respect for union rights.

These recommendations, the result of decades of advocacy and organizing, prioritize teachers and their unions, calling for significant investments in public education. Edwards urged member organizations to mobilize for the establishment of national commissions on the education workforce, including teacher unions. The implementation of these recommendations demands global mobilization and continued pressure on governments. The EI leader encouraged member organizations to meet with their Ministers of Education and Finance to discuss these recommendations and ensure they are not left unaddressed.

“This is a major win. This step forward is significant, but it must not stop there. The proposal for an international convention on the teaching profession is now on the table. I think the convention is also something that's achievable because we have momentum, and I don't think we can be stopped,” he acknowledged.

Challenges Faced by Teachers in Cameroon

Roger Kaffo, General Secretary of the Fédération des Syndicats de l'Enseignement et de la Recherche (FESER) then offered an example of how education unions can make good use of diverse communication means to raise awareness about the importance of public education and push for the implementation of the UN recommendations.

He added that communication emerges as a key challenge in addressing issues faced by teachers in Cameroon who have long grappled with economic, social, and symbolic degradation, as well as an education system “on the verge of collapse.” While high-quality communication is essential, limited resources often hinder effective outreach. Leveraging low-cost platforms like WhatsApp and TikTok helps reach a wider audience, but mainstream methods such as television and print media remain necessary, he said.

The Cameroons’ education unionist welcomed the fact that recent efforts, including campaigns presenting the UN recommendations, have sparked interest among parents and fostered collaboration with teachers' unions. “Incorporating these recommendations into advocacy actions signals a proactive approach toward government engagement.”

The ComNet meeting also offered the opportunity to showcase work already done by regional ComNets recently set up in two EI regions, Latin America and Africa.

EI Africa ComNet: Amplifying Support for Education

Kojo Asiamah Addo from the EI Africa office explained that the EI Africa ComNet, launched on October 23rd, 2023, seeks to unite member organizations across the continent to strengthen communication and advocacy efforts for quality public education. With representatives from 17 member organizations, the network aims to provide a common platform for sharing information and coordinating campaigns. Through initiatives like joining the Go Public! Fund Education campaign, the regional ComNet empowers member organizations to amplify their voices and drive positive change in education policy and practice.

The network's objectives include facilitating information sharing among member organizations, sharpening advocacy strategies, and supporting communication efforts at both the regional and national levels. By harnessing the collective expertise and experiences of its members, the EI Africa ComNet seeks to enhance communication strategies and foster collaboration across the regional education landscape.

Key achievements of the ComNet include supporting the publicity of the 10th EI Africa Conference, organizing the launch of the Go Public! Campaign in Malawi, and intensifying campaign efforts through social media platforms and events. Moving forward, the regional ComNet aims to continue empowering member organizations to navigate political spaces, engage with stakeholders, and advocate for quality public education for all in Africa.

EILA ComNet's Efforts to Enhance Communication in Latin American Education Unions

Alina Rodríguez and Bolivar Rojas from the EI Latin America office also reported on the inaugural meeting of the EILA ComNet in July 2021 amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. This gathering served as a platform for education unions to share insights and address challenges in communication, including combating fake news, countering harassment campaigns, and advocating for public education against opposing economic and political interests.

In 2023, a follow-up session with regional and headquarters colleagues delved into the necessity of a political communication strategy, citing examples from Argentina and Uruguay, and shared campaign materials from initiatives like the Go Public! Fund Education campaign.

Communication within Latin American organizations faces disparities in resources and training, with some employing communication agencies or sizable teams, while others rely on lone individuals. Standardizing communication resources and aligning strategies with EILA's objectives, such as defending public education and promoting gender equity, are key objectives.

However, challenges persist, including the need for stronger leadership support, sufficient economic resources, and professionalization of communication efforts.

Looking ahead to 2024, efforts in Latin America will focus on personalized support for organizations, developing a communication manual, and hosting virtual training sessions on topics like communication strategy development and gender-focused communication. Long-term goals include organizing the first in-person meeting to further enhance collaboration and coordination among education unions in the region.

The ComNet meeting further featured two roundtables on key issues for educators and citizens around the globe. The first one focused on trade unions fighting off fake news.

Challenges to Education and Democracy: Voices from the Frontlines

Miguel Gonzalez from the National Education Association (NEA) outlined the coordinated attacks by conservative Republicans and their allies on public education in the United States. Stemming from an executive order signed by former President Donald Trump in September 2020, legislation was introduced across various states to ban discussions on critical race theory (CRT) in classrooms. Despite negligible instances of CRT being taught, laws were passed leading to confusion among educators and even job losses. The attacks evolved to include bans on discussing LGBTQ+ topics and even book bans, sparking widespread protests. However, grassroots union-led efforts pushed back against these divisive measures.

Alejo de Michelis from the Confederación de Trabajadores de la Educación de la República Argentina (CTERA) highlighted the dire situation in Argentina under President Javier Milei, characterized by attacks on democracy and education. The administration's actions, including an “omnibus” law and attempts to dismantle collective bargaining agreements, have sparked widespread protests. The government's use of misinformation and attempts to stifle dissent further exacerbate the situation, prompting great resistance from union confederations like the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) and the Argentine Workers’ Central (CTA).

Tim Dawson, Deputy General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), underscored the pervasive issue of fake news and its impact on journalism and democracy. While fake news is not new, “its rapid dissemination and the rise of information bubbles pose significant challenges,” he acknowledged. Efforts to combat fake news must focus on promoting quality journalism and educating consumers on discerning reliable sources. Additionally, Dawson advocated for stronger international mechanisms to protect journalists and ensure press freedom. “I would like to see lessons about understanding the quality of information and being able to distinguish between something that you come across on TikTok and something that you've come across published in a book by an established publishing house. This is an important lesson to learn.”

During ComNet, EI member organizations’ representatives also described their unions’ efforts to advance peace education.

Promoting Peace Education: Strong Commitment from Teachers' Unions

For Tamaki Terasawa, Director of International Affairs of the Japan Teachers’ Union (JTU), “peace education stands as a cornerstone of the JTU values, rooted in a commitment to fostering a peaceful and democratic society.” With a history dating back to 1947, the JTU recognizes the importance of acknowledging past wrongs, including Japan's actions during World War II, and promoting a culture of peace through education. By teaching students about historical realities and advocating for peace, the JTU aims to prevent future conflicts and contribute to global peace efforts. “Seven years ago, the relationship between Korea and Japan was very tense, even now, because there are many extremists in Japan. But JTU members vowed to never send our students to the battlefield.”

Similarly, peace education is a fundamental mission of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTU) in South Korea, said KTU International Secretary, Hyunsu Hwang. Given Korea's unique situation as a divided nation under a truce agreement, the KTU emphasizes the importance of promoting understanding and reconciliation between North and South Korea. Despite political tensions, the KTU advocates for peaceful reunification and fosters dialogue among educators to address historical conflicts and promote peace education in classrooms. “The peaceful approach of the KTU is reflected in its logo: The red part stands for North Korea, the blue part for South Korea. And the students are in the middle. This means that the reason for the foundation of KTU is peace between North Korea and South Korea.”

Najat Ganay, Member of the National Bureau of the Syndicat National de l'Enseignement - Fédération Démocratique du Travail in Morocco, and Vice-President of the EI Arab Countries Cross-Regional Structure, insisted that in the context of ongoing conflicts, such as the terrible situation in Palestine, “peace education is more crucial than ever.” Ganay gave a heart-breaking account of the devastating impact of the war conducted by Israel, on Palestinian children, teachers, and education infrastructure, emphasizing the urgent need for international solidarity and political will to achieve sustainable peace. Through initiatives like distance education and social and psychosocial support workshops, teachers play a vital role in healing traumas and rebuilding communities affected by conflict, she noted. “We need a sustainable ceasefire, and that is the role of all international leaders. And there must be international awareness. Everyone, everywhere in the world, must be aware that a culture of peace can only be achieved through peace education.”

Collectively, these voices underscored the vital role of teachers and unions in promoting peace education and fostering a culture of peace worldwide. By addressing historical injustices, advocating for reconciliation, and empowering future generations with the tools for peace, educators are working towards a more peaceful and collaborative world.