International panel reaffirms solidarity between global educators

Four esteemed international educators shared their insights on a range of topics concerning the Asia-Pacific region on the second day of Annual Conference.

Delegates received speeches from Anand Singh, Education International (EI) Chief Regional Coordinator for Asia-Pacific; Nesalinda Meta, Education International Asia-Pacific (EIAP) Committee member and President of the Council of Pacific Education; Liam Rutherford, President, New Zealand Educational Institute Te Riu Roa (NZEI Te Riu Roa); and Melanie Webber, President, New Zealand Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA).

Anand Singh appeared via video link and spoke about the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of global education. Following lockdowns, school closures, and the abrupt shift to distance modes of teaching-learning, teachers endured the pandemic’s toll on their compensation and job security, health and workplace safety, and trade union rights.

By now, the words ‘overworked’ and ‘underpaid’ used to describe teachers may sound cliche, but that is because they remain tragically true. And they couldn’t ring more accurate than during the pandemic,” he said.

He also warned of the threats posed by edtech companies which have been magnified by, but not caused by, the pandemic. Limitations, such as low access to digital technologies and limited professional development on their use, did not come about just now. These inequalities so manifest in distance learning only further narrow students’ access to quality, universal education for all.

Mr Singh shared his vision of a post-pandemic global society, one in which education cannot fall by the wayside. It is a world where teachers receive more than thanks. We must claim what is ours. We must fight tirelessly for it. And, as a movement, we must always organise and mobilise for it,” said Mr Singh.

Nesalinda Meta, who also appeared via video link, delivered a thought-provoking presentation on the impacts of climate change in Vanuatu, and on the provision of public education. She spoke of the plight of Pacific Island countries, which regularly top the list of most at-risk countries on earth, and shared with Conference images of the devastation climate change has already bestowed on Vanuatu schools.

At the moment, parents, teachers and students are worried about which school to attend due to rising sea levels. One example I would like share with you is a primary school on one of the islands. Last year, there was the storm that hit one of our islands and the sea washed right into the classrooms and destroyed all the books, papers, everything.

The Ministry of Education made the difficult decision to relocate the school to higher land and build a brand-new school,” she said.

Climate change will affect the basic elements of life for people around the world: access to water, costs to food production, health, education and the environment. Taking steps to build resilience and minimise costs is essential.”

Liam Rutherford, President of NZEI Te Riu Roa, shared news of the journey that teaching unions in New Zealand have embarked upon since the election of the Jacinda Ardern government in 2017, and what has been accomplished.

I think what we’ve really come to realise five years into a left-wing government is that electing the government isn’t actually the win; it’s the opportunity, and that even after five years our unions are still fighting for absolutely everything that they’re winning.

After 18 long months, and four different sets of industrial action, we [joined] the Post Primary Teachers’ Association and delivered the largest piece of industrial action that New Zealand had seen. As a result of that we saw pay rises of between 12 and 18 per cent,” said Mr Rutherford.

But there had been no review into staffing until, inspired by the Gallop Inquiry taking place across the ditch in NSW, NZEI Te Ria Roa commissioned an independent inquiry into staffing of their own, led by an ex-minister of education. The inquiry asked two key questions: to what extent is the current staffing entitlement fit for purpose to enable children to reach their potential? And, what are the staffing resources that are needed moving forward?

The panel came up with recommendations around centrally funding teacher aides and getting them into every single classroom, lowering class sizes to a max of one to 23 in public schools; increases in professional practice time, up to five hours a week; increases in management staffing and centrally funded administration support in every school,” said Mr Rutherford.

We’ve got to shift this idea of seeing education spending as an expense and genuinely seeing it as an investment. And so, the work is still ahead of us. We’re really excited.”

Ms Webber spoke of the call for needs-based staffing in secondary schools, and of work being done with government around equity funding. Work has also been going on with our government around equity funding, or a new means of funding schools called the equity index.

What we’re looking at is a more nuanced approach to the way that schools are funded.”

Delegates appreciated the individual perspectives shared by each speaker, with a clear emphasis on the common goals and objectives of education unions worldwide. Ms Webber’s presentation concluded the panel perfectly as she spoke of a vision for education: Schools must be places for all students to get ahead, and for teachers to experience the surprise and delight of watching learning unfold.”