Asia-Pacific unions driving the Education 2030 Agenda

With more than 17 million children, most of them girls, “out of school”, the Asia-Pacific region faces great challenges in the push to achieve sustainable development by 2030.

Education union leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region gathered in Kathmandu, Nepal for the 8th Education International (EI) Asia-Pacific Regional Conference in early October. More than 350 delegates from the 36 member nations of our EI region debated the role we as education professionals and trade unionists will play in achieving real and sustainable change in our world by 2030.

In 2015, the United Nations adopted a new plan for world development to achieve the future we want. The sustainable development goals (SDGs) focus on achieving improvements in key elements of community. The importance of education to world development is captured through a stand-alone goal, SDG4, and explicit references in several other goals. SDG4 calls on the world to “ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. The Education 2030 Agenda is our program for bringing about the realisation of the SDGs.

The location of the conference in Nepal provided a poignant context for the debates. Devastated by huge earthquakes in 2015, Nepal is also struggling with crippling development demands, an ineffectual government recovering from a period of extreme political instability and nefarious external influences that have led to rampant commercialisation of education.

Despite a constitutional guarantee of free public education in primary and lower secondary school, not a single permanent teacher has been employed in Nepal since 2001 and only two new public schools have been built in the past 10n years. Six thousand schools were destroyed in the 2015 earthquakes, and a further three thousand public schools have been closed by the government. In contrast, more than 100 for-profit schools have been approved by government in that time and they operate with unqualified teachers, in dilapidated residential buildings providing low quality education for a predominantly male student cohort that does well on standardised tests.

The Nepalese experience of post-disaster education change is instructive in a region that has experienced significant natural disaster related disruption in recent years. A trend has emerged around the world that sees governments in developing nations abandon public education in the aftermath of natural disasters. With the spectre of climate change induced inundation of a number of pacific islands, we need to be alert to the prospect of further government policy changes that will undermine the universal provision of free, high quality public education.

The conference concluded with Asia-Pacific education union leaders reiterating their commitment to quality education for all, working towards countering for-profit education privatisation, increasing teacher professionalism and demanding respect for educators’ human and trade union rights.

Kevin Bates                                                                                                                      President

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 8, 3 November 2017, p25