“Invest in quality teachers and education for all, and keep education and public services out of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement!” This was the message for policy-makers from trade unionists attending the Unite culmination event in Brussels, Belgium, on 22 September.
Leaders from education, the European Commission (EC), the European Parliament (EP), and government representatives met at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and discussed the need for investment in education and the TTIP and its threat to quality education. The event was hosted by the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), the European region of Education International (EI).
“One thing is abundantly clear: You don’t want to outsource quality,” said EI President Susan Hopgood to almost 100 trade unionists at the event. “Education is a human right and a public good. It is the responsibility of governments to provide free quality public education for all.”
In Europe today, she said, the concern is that some people think commercial agreements such as TTIP should apply to public services like education. The TTIP is being negotiated by the European Union and the United States.
Education is not for sale
Hopgood also expressed concern that rules in trade agreements threaten to lock in and intensify the pressures of commercialisation and privatisation, eroding the policy space necessary to ensure every child, youth, and adult has access to quality education from pre-school to university. That is why, around the world, educators have said to governments: our right to education is not for sale. Education must not be included in commercial trade agreements, she added.
That conviction is also why educators “from all over the world have joined together to Unite for Quality Education”, she said.
“That is why we are here today. That is the message we bring here, and that we take to the UN in a few days.”
The solution is quality education for all, accessible to all, and free to all, she reiterated. “Three pillars. Simple, yet powerful. Quality teachers, tools, and environments. Simple, yet so out of reach for so many.”
Working conditions part of dialogue
ETUCE Director Martin Rømer said that engaging unions about quality education is not difficult, because they appreciate the need for quality education. “In some European countries, however, talking about quality in education may seem difficult. When we talk about quality education, of course, we talk about pedagogical teaching methods, the tools, use of ICT in education, but we also have to talk about teachers’ working and living conditions, and cuts in education budget.”
Europe is at a crossroads, he said: less money for education and, at the same time, huge companies are inviting for cooperation, which could be a consequence of the currently negotiated trade agreement with the United States.
ETUCE does not want public education to be included in TTIP, but what is public education? Rømer asked. If unions want to protect public education, if they do not want to outsource public education, then they need to define it: “Is it when it is 100 per cent publicly financed? Fifty per cent publicly financed? Twenty five per cent publicly financed?”
The Unite campaign has been widely supported by organisations in Europe: organisations have conducted demonstrations, negotiations with governments, made films and videos, etc. “Everybody is interested in delivering high quality service in our sector, but we also need high quality support, and we need governments to recognise their responsibility in providing quality education,” Rømer said.
“A few years ago, in Western Europe, budgets allocated to education, with few exceptions, were acceptable,” the President of the EESC Workers’ Group Georges Dassis said. “Since the financial crisis, we are witnessing an unprecedented regression in education in almost all countries. It is evident that we will not improve the living conditions of citizens living in the European Union by going down this road.”
Young people finishing their university education go to other continents to pursue their studies, he said. This is because the European Union and countries as national entities do not invest enough in education, Dassis said, adding that this is a bad omen for this generation’s future “and we try, with you, to counter this tendency”.
Right to education
He added that every citizen has the right to quality education, notwithstanding their social origins, which means that European societies must be more just than what they are now.
Video about the one-year Unite campaign in Europe:
“There is one factor, that we know, from the peculiarity of South Korea, to the difficulties of some European countries, affects education: if you want to improve an education system, look at its teachers, because no education system is better that the quality of its teachers,” said Xavier Prats Monné, Director General for Education and Culture at the EC, detailing the EC’s vision about the future of Quality Education.
Who better than trade unions to define issues and challenges for teachers? he asked.
Support for teachers
The third priority for the EU in terms of education, he added, is that a new generation of teachers must be supported.
Teachers in Europe have one common characteristic that is a challenge and must be a future priority, Prats Monné said. The current generation of teachers “is actually pretty old”. In some countries, the average age of teachers is well over 45, he said.
“This is an extraordinary occasion to make sure that our member states focus on ensuring that the new generation of teachers who will take over is a generation that is better prepared, but most importantly, get the right incentive to be good teachers and are recognised as such.”
“We will continue the strong alliance between the European Commission and ETUCE,” he said, “because what you claim to be important for teachers, it is what any reasonable person would think is really important for teachers.”
Marcello Limina, Chair of the Education Committee of the EU Council of Ministers, also said that the Italian Presidency accepted to engage this Education Committee in a discussion with ETUCE on investment in education.
Members of the EP from diverse political groups joined participants for a roundtable discussion on Quality teaching, Quality tools and Quality environments – A view forward for Europe 2014-2020.
“I am a secondary school teacher who has just arrived at the European Parliament,” said Sofia Ribeiro, MEP from Portugal. “And before that, for nine years, I was a union leader of a teachers’ union that belongs to the Federação Nacional da Educação (FNE) in Portugal. The work that I had previously means that I am really familiar with ETUCE guidelines and indications. I signed the 10 key messages that we are discussing today when they were presented to me.”
There is no single politician, no single union leader, no single teacher, not even a single person who is not in favour of quality teaching, quality tools and quality environment, she said.
“So the key issue is to discuss what it [quality education] truly means to us: is it measurable? How can we define it? We must analyse what our children are learning, in which conditions and with whom.”
That is why the ten key messages from ETUCE on what is needed to improve the quality of education in Europe are so important, Ribeiro stressed: they do not just define what quality in education is, but they also set the education priorities at regional, national, and European levels.
Threat from TTIP
In a second panel discussion, Marco Düerkop, TTIP Services lead negotiator at the EC, Mirja Becker, First Secretary responsible for Trade issues at the German Permanent Representation to the EU, and EI Special Consultant David Robinson spoke about the threat to quality education posed by TTIP.
Düerkop admitted that the ETUCE comment on the TTIPs possibly restricting space for governments for example to take back previously privatised service “had made the EC Directorate General for Trade think,” and “this problem should be solved”.
The TTIP negotiations must be more transparent and involve trade unions and civil society, said Robinson. He also highlighted that “there’s a need to define what public services are, otherwise others dealing with trade and economic agreements will define them for us”.
World Teachers’ Day
Quality education will also be a focus point during World Teachers’ Day, on 5 October, when teachers around the globe will be celebrated in classrooms, villages, and cities for their tireless dedication to the profession.
To make 5 October a day to remember, EI is calling on all members and colleagues to participate by having their voices heard to ensure that world leaders know how important a quality teacher is in helping students reach their full potential.
Beginning at 12:00 noon, EI is asking everyone to ‘Push the Button’ by emailing, texting, or tweeting messages of support for quality education directly to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Click here for more information.