Challenges to quality education

Jenny Diamond
General Secretary

Problems associated with unqualified or under-qualified teachers and para-professionals taking classes as a solution to costs or a lack of qualified teachers were discussed at the Education International Asia-Pacific Regional Conference.

At Women’s Caucus, keynote speaker Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir spoke of the number of staff who deliver education and lack tertiary qualifications and/or teacher training.

Malaysia is looking at tertiary qualified educators in the style of Teach for America (college graduates, mostly without a background in education, are sent to teach in low-income rural and urban schools in a two-year commitment, after attending a five-week training program in the summer between graduating from college and beginning their teaching assignments).

Workshop delegates reported instances of untrained teachers delivering lessons, often to overcrowded classes.

In NSW, Great Teaching, Inspired Learning and comments from Education Minister Adrian Piccoli support properly qualified teachers, but Australians are yet to see what approach the Abbott Government will take.

Ms Mahathir also gave an intelligent and persuasive presentation on the importance of girls attending and completing school.

Delegates to the conference considered the challenges of the conference theme, Quality Public Education: Building Asia-Pacific’s Social and Economic Future, against the background of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal for education. The goal, set in 2000, is to have all children across the globe, girls and boys alike, accessing and completing primary education by 2015.

The importance of ensuring quality provision in public education is a strongly held value among Federation members who understand that the Gonski campaign to secure proper and fair funding for schools will, if fully realised, build capacity for sustained quality in public education.

The most recent United Nations report on the goal's progress indicates 90 percent of primary-aged children are now enrolled with out-of-school numbers having fallen from 102 million to 57 million in the decade to 2011.

While the improvement in the number of children attending school is significant, the goal of all children receiving quality primary education by 2015 will not be achieved. In recognition of this shortfall, Education International has launched a new global campaign, Mobilising for Quality Education, which seeks universal and free access to quality teachers, modern tools and resources and safe and secure environments for teaching and learning.

Affiliate unions pledged support when conference delegates attended a pre-launch of Mobilising for Quality Education. The campaign was officially launched on World Teachers Day, October 4. Campaign details can be found on the Education International website by clicking on the Unite for Quality Education button.

The conference was held in Kuala Lumpur, September 18–20.

Teacher unions under threat

While Australian teachers contemplate the likely impact of the Abbott Government’s policies in regard to public education and teacher unions, other teacher unions are already under threat, or facing a worsening situation.

Teacher unions in Fiji are anxiously looking to the impact of the Abbott Government resuming diplomatic relations with the Fiji government; unions are preparing for further deterioration of democratic structures.

In South Korea, the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU), the freely organised teacher trade union, was de-registered by the Park Geun-hye government on October 24. The KTU regards this as "the death of Korean democracy and education". The KTU has been under government investigation because of its campaign activity while the government has actively assisted another union to establish and grow.

Threats to trade union activity by various governments is a real one in a number of nations across Asia-Pacific. It is a timely reminder to us that our democratic process cannot be taken for granted, nor can we be complacent about our capacity to defend teacher professionalism, the work of teachers, and quality public education.