Worlds of Education

Bringing governments and education unions together

published 21 April 2024 updated 23 April 2024
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For the well-being of students, our communities and our countries, governments must increase investment in public education systems, including quality teacher training and professional development, guarantee labor rights and good working conditions, involve teacher unions in policymaking and trust and respect teachers and their professional expertise.

Although that paragraph could easily be mistaken for some of the core aspirational principles of Education International, it is a brief summary of just a portion of a landmark set of recommendations released by the United Nations earlier this year.

The UN High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession – a global group of leaders convened from government, civil society, academic and union roles, including EI President Susan Hopgood – spoke clearly with one voice, urging governments to act decisively to address the global education crisis by elevating and transforming the role and status of a teaching profession that is overworked, undervalued and underpaid.

This collaborative international consensus follows the examples that have been set for more than a decade by the International Summit of the Teaching Profession, the latest to be held this month in Singapore, hosted by the Singaporean Government and the Singapore Teachers’ Union and cosponsored as the Summits have been for 14 years, by EI and the OECD.

Our Summits have shown the power of partnership between teacher organizations and governments to advance education policies that meet the needs of all students in a turbulent world.

Our key focus at last year’s summit in Washington, was on the changing role of teachers, not only to provide them with the support and resources they need and improve their working conditions, but also to equip them with the skills and knowledge to handle emerging challenges such as digitalization and the climate crisis. We placed a strong emphasis on matching quality with equity and inclusion; vital elements for promoting global citizenship.

This year we explore how to transform education to ensure it realizes its potential to contribute to a more just, peaceful and sustainable society. We’ll discuss the role of technology for the future of learning and teaching in TVET and consider the types of partnerships necessary to support learning for life.

Recent joint policy papers from EI and the OECD on the post-Covid recovery of education systems, teacher and student wellbeing, and the just and effective use of artificial intelligence in the classroom, provide important background to these discussions. All of them highlight that a human-centered approach is essential when reimagining education, and together they constitute a solid basis for future joint policy work between unions and governments.

Indeed, the foundation of the ISTP is our deliberate shared intention these past 14 years to foster and develop collaboration between ministers and union leaders in the pursuit of impactful policies. Our work of systemic change through collaboration has certainly been accelerated in unprecedented fashion by the UN.

The Panel’s recommendations call for urgent transformation not only in the work of teachers, but in society's valuation of the profession, and the national importance of education systems. And for each ISTP session this year, relevant recommendations from the Panel are provided for delegations to discuss.

Crucially, the delegations will be invited to discuss the significance of the recommendations and what it will take to implement them in their national context.

As participants in the difficult issues of education policy and practice well know, social dialogue and even consensus are only the initial steps in transforming education. If we are serious about quality education, about transforming the teaching profession, about digital literacy and civic engagement for our students, then the systems that support these goals must be fit for purpose.

There is inequality – because of the system. There are unacceptably high workloads, low pay and the departure of too many of my colleagues from the profession – because of the system.

When we transform systems, we can transform teaching conditions, working conditions, and students’ learning conditions.

Critically, the UN Panel asserts that the principal means for developing policies on education, teaching, and the teaching profession should be based on a framework of collaboration that leads to implementation. This well defines the work of the ISTP from its inception in 2011 – bringing governments and educators together to lead the way, to move from social dialogue to actions that bring the systemic change needed for quality education for all.

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