Union stands with Pacific educators

A high-level conference of Pacific teacher unions has heard how government reforms are undermining public education in the region.

The 22nd Council of Pacific Education (COPE) Conference was held in Nadi, Fiji on 18-19 October, where 17 teacher unions from 14 Pacific island countries were represented at the two-day event.

The overarching conference theme was “Pacific educators driving the Sustainable Development 2030 Agenda”, with particular focus on Sustainable Development Goals about quality education, gender equality, decent work/ economic growth and climate action.

The opening session of the COPE Conference included the launch of the Education International Research Report on Commercialisation and Privatisation of Education in the Pacific.

The report was launched by Education International’s director for the global response to the commercialisation and privatisation of education (and Federation president-elect) Angelo Gavrielatos, plus researchers Anna Hogan and Mesake Dakuidreketi, with Fiji’s education minister Rosy Akbar in attendance. Commissioned by Education International in partnership with COPE, it revealed the impact and consequences of reform on schooling in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Its findings were highlighted in reports from each country given by their unions. It was clear to see how government reforms — such as standardisation of testing, accountability linked to performance and corporate practices, and a rise in short-term contracts — are all being widely adopted, hindering the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and undermining public education in the Pacific region.

The need for urgent climate action dominated the conference with delegates describing their lived experience, including dwindling food supplies, contaminated stormwater and school closures. A local public school student addressed the conference with her fears for the future and frustration that governments are not taking the issue of climate change seriously.

Although systems across the Pacific island nations are very small compared with ours in NSW, the issues facing schools and teachers are remarkably similar. For unions that have very limited resources, the teacher unions across the Pacific are continuing to grow and build the capacity of their members to engage and promote the aims of their respective unions.

The work of COPE and the teacher unions in these countries is vitally important in ensuring the progress towards the goal of quality education for all. As a development cooperation partner, the role of the Australian Education Union (AEU) is crucial in assisting to build capacity within these unions.