Sandra Grey, national president of the Tertiary Education Union, reflects on some of the debate taking place at this week’s Education International Asia-Pacific conference.
Another mass shooting in the US, ethnic cleansings and genocide, climate change threating the very existence of Pacific nations, and government support for companies profiting off poor communities desperate for education opportunities illustrate the complex world teacher unions operate in.
At the opening of the Education International’s (EI) Asia-Pacific Regional Conference we are reminded of the importance of education staff standing up for transformative education, human rights, and democracy in this complex world.
With power moving from democratic institutions to global companies over which we have no control; the rise of extremism; and, the rejection of democracy by our elected leaders; teacher unions have their work cut out for them.
What is our role in changing the degradation of our earth and the attacks on human rights here in New Zealand?
Firstly we must continue to lead the debate on the importance of free education at all levels from early childhood to tertiary education. We must do this to reverse the growing tide of inequality in Aotearoa. We must do this to because it is in education that “we learn to be and learn to live together” as EI’s General Secretary, Fred Van Leeuwen, pointed out.
There is money for free education, as Van Leeuwen pointed out at, it is just that big companies worldwide are not paying their fair share of taxes, they are stowing money away in profits for the small number of citizens who are growing ever richer.
Secondly we have to continue to oppose marketisation and corporatisation.
What does this mean? It means taking actions to stop the growth in New Zealand of edu-businesses who are making profits off students. It also means condemning moves by our government to exploit international students to prop up our tertiary education system which it is deliberately underfunding.
Thirdly, we must take up the EI challenge to gain back control of our own profession.
Currently EI is developing standards for the teaching profession worldwide. What would this look like for TEU members working across polytechnics, wānanga, and universities? Have we a clear idea of what quality tertiary teaching looks like?
If we don’t set the boundaries, the government will continue to measure us against arbitrary metrics like progressions and completions, a move that degrades both the quality of our tertiary education in New Zealand and our profession.
In a world where academics, teachers, support staff, and students are killed for speaking up for democracy and quality teaching, we need to examine how well we are doing. Can we do more to speak up?
As Van Leewan pointed out our professional responsibility may outweigh the approach of our employers and governments to education and democracy.
Together we can improve union rights and our right to be the legitimate voice in the setting of both government and institutional policies around teaching and learning.
Together we can ensure that our communities have the tools to exercise their human and political rights.
As Van Leewan pointed out: “In solidarity with each other we can, and do, make a difference”.
The pathway to a better world is through our classrooms, our labs, our workshops, and lecture theatres. Are we ready to lead the change?