On World Teachers’ Day, 5 October, Education International’s President, Susan Hopgood, highlighted how too many educators paid the ultimate price during the pandemic to ensure quality education for their students.
Speaking at the conference “COVID-19: What employers need to know on vaccination and prevention”, organised by the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) , Hopgood stressed that teachers’ representative organisations must be consulted if governments want to guarantee effective and equitable recovery.
To showcase the plight of teachers in the recent past, Hopgood drew attention to the virtual teacher tribute event Education International organised on the occasion of World Teachers’ Day. The event aimed “to honour those we have lost during the pandemic”.
Staggering cost of pandemic
Hopgood said it was regrettable that, “while the numbers are staggering, the stories and human toll this pandemic has had on our students, our communities, and our educators seldom get covered".
“As a global profession, such staggering losses anywhere are felt by all of us everywhere. The fact that the vast majority of those we lost never had the opportunity to be vaccinated only reinforces our commitment to ensure vaccine equity and safe working conditions for those of us who continue to work on the frontlines with the populations who are least likely to be vaccinated, children.”
Education International’s president recognised educators who have been adapting and improvising at the classroom and community level, working through their unions to forge and direct policies at the systems level, and managing the personal challenges unique to so many frontline workers. She also noted that “the absence of in-person schooling in the pandemic created a void and delivered an unmistakable lesson in every community about the importance of teaching, a place called ‘school’, and the necessary structures and systems of education”.
That lesson is driven home by the maths of inequity, she stressed: effective remote learning is impossible when one-half of the world has no internet. The loss of school-based nutrition adds to the historic and rising rate of global hunger, 11 million girls so far during COVID-19 have joined the already existing 130 million girls out of school. They may never return. Hopgood also reminded participants that ILO Director-General Guy Ryder had deplored the fact that nine million more children will likely join the ranks of 152 million child labourers by the end of 2022.
TRIPS waiver and vaccines for all educators
The World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver is critical, she said, insisting that COVID-19 vaccines and treatments are truly global public goods. Lives are still at stake, Hopgood emphasised, including “the lives of our colleagues, their communities, and their students’ right to a future. One study last month says more than half the world will be susceptible to the virus at the end of this year, with significant transmission and spread into 2022”.
This is why, together with over 100 countries and countless organisations, as well as the WTO’s own director, Education International believes the most effective solution now is to temporarily waive intellectual property barriers on COVID-19 vaccines and medical products.
“As teachers, we are a presence in every community and, by extension, every economy in this time of COVID-19. We know there is no end to this crisis, no fully safe return to schools or commerce or true community without vaccine equity worldwide. As long as vaccine access falls short of meeting the global demand, we will continue to see strengthening subcurrents of the pandemic pull us further out to sea, further from the shore of recovery.”
OECD/Education International principles for educational recovery
Hopgood underlined that countries fared much better in the pandemic where government and employers engaged meaningfully with unions than countries where educators and their unions were not involved or treated like obstacles. She highlighted how Education International and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) established 10 principles for equitable and effective educational recovery:
- Keep schools open as much and as safely as possible.
- Ensure equity and align resources with needs.
- Provide a remote learning infrastructure which is designed to reach all students.
- Support teachers in their professional lives.
- Enable teachers and parents to support learners.
- Provide targeted support to meet students’ learning and social and emotional needs.
- Co-design a robust digital learning infrastructure with teachers and stakeholders.
- Empower teachers to exercise their professionalism and benefit from professional learning opportunities.
- Encourage a collaborative culture of innovation.
- Learn from national and international evidence.
For Education International and its member organisations, equitable recovery and sustainability in quality education and every other aspect of civil society is impossible “if we continue to defund and demonetise the public sector, ignore the climate crisis, allow Pandora paper tax havens to cloak themselves in darkness, and if we fail to confront growing threats to democracy”.
Educators stand for truth and fight lies and disinformation
On World Teachers’ Day 2021, teachers and all education workers stand with “our troubled and anxious communities”, emphasised Hopgood. “Our partisanship is no secret. We stand for truth and, through our unions, we take collective action in the face of lies and disinformation. We educate, inform, and work to activate citizens against intolerance and authoritarians.”
She concluded: “We are mobilised to make sure that the post-pandemic future is built upon listening, teaching, and collaborating on the work necessary for an effective and equitable recovery. The future depends on it.”