EI and its predecessor organisations have long supported leadership of the UN and its agencies to build consensus for the principles of universal, free, quality education. The UN Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, signed in 1968, recognised the right to education and other important rights.
The UN, in an effort to turn principles into concrete progress on the ground developed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted in 2000, an interdependent set of goals for social progress and development. The MDGs were to be achieved in 15 years. EI was heavily involved in the MDG process. The “Education for All” commitment was a major accomplishment for education.
There were two important goals for governments to make progress extending the benefits of education. Goal 2 sought to increase universal primary education by 2015 and Goal 3 to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education by 2005 and at all levels of education by 2015.
Progress was made in both areas but neither goal was realised by 2015. In addition, it became clear that although education was extended, increased quantity was not always accompanied by improvements in quality.
EI launched the Unite for Quality Education in order to build support for good quality education with qualified professionals. This campaign helped lead to the more far-reaching UN Sustainable Development Goals designed to meet a wide range of objectives by 2030, including Goal 4 to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.
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A major priority for EI since its creation was universal, free, publicly supported education. That was necessary for the realisation for the right to education, but also vital to the development of society and democracy. Education was also an enabler for the exercise of other rights and a lever for fairness and equality.
In addition, EI has adopted positions on a wide variety of education and social issues including policies addressing the needs for development of specific education sectors. The Sustainable Development Goals, as adopted by the UN General Assembly in September of 2015, largely corresponded to a wide range of EI policy priorities. Goal 4 addressed equality, quality, the broad mission of education and education sector issues.
“Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
4.1 By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes
4.2 By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education
4.3 By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university
4.4 By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship
4.5 By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations
4.6 By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy
4.7 By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development
4.a Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all
4.b By 2020, substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries
4.c By 2030, substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States.”
EI carried out the most intense and successful campaign in its history with “Unite for Quality Education”. It has also been the largest, deepest, and most effective Global Union mobilisation. The campaign is based on three pillars; quality teaching, quality tools for teaching and learning, and quality environments for teaching and learning.
The campaign was, in part, designed to build international, regional, and national support for ambitions sustainable development goals at the UN that corresponded to the priorities of education workers and their trade unions. As part of the Unite for Quality Education campaign, EI delegations met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other world leaders. EI leaders worked closely with UN Special Envoy on Global Education, Gordon Brown.
Obtaining acceptable SDG Goals on education was a long process. A major initial success of the campaign was to achieve a stand-alone goal on education so that it would achieve importance and attention while, at the same time, being linked to the other goals. Obtaining good content was an exhaustive process of both campaigning and negotiating.
In addition to campaigning, there was considerable technical work done by the Secretariat, for example on developing indicators that would further and not distort the meaning of the goals. Although the language is excellent, the work on the SDGs is far from over and EI continues to strive to ensure that the meaning of the goals is respected and that governments seriously address their commitments.
There was a major difference in the environment in 2000 when the MDGs were adopted and 2015, when the SDGs were agreed. Major private, “non-State” actors, often multinational companies have become much more present and active in global education. Their growth is among the reasons that quality issues, including related to the role and status of professionals in education, have become so important if the SDGs are to be achieved.
If the interests of students and the mission of education to prepare people for life and not just for work are to be advanced, education must be a public good. It must develop the “whole child”, build tolerance, understanding, democracy and respect for human rights. Profit-seeking enterprises that see education as a market to be exploited rather than a means to transform lives and society, augment the pressure for quantity at the expense of quality. They also have the effect of narrowing the mission of education. Developing the capacity for critical thinking, for example, is absent from their agenda. Edu-businesses pay lip service to the SDGs, but are driven by shareholder value rather than the public good.
Fighting for quality education and the fulfilment of the SDGs requires EI to defend long-established standards for the status of teachers. If education is to fully contribute to developing opportunities for all, decent societies, and democracy, the trend to strip down education to a high volume, poor quality process must be reversed.
To that end, the 2015 Congress of EI decided to strengthen the element of the Unite for Quality Education campaign that exposes and resists privatisation and commercialisation and promotes the autonomy and development of the teaching profession. That means that education workers and their trade unions much have a seat at the table wherever education policy is made and implemented.