Schools must be safe for students and teachers says Education International

Education International General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen and President Susan Hopgood Picture: Education International

Schools need to be safe places for both students and teachers. That was the message heard resoundingly at a gathering of the organisation that represents more than 30 million teachers and education workers across the world.

Education International President Susan Hapgood told its Seventh World Congress that: “Schools, teachers and students should not and cannot be the targets of armed conflicts. We see too often now that schools are being used as a pawn in war.”

Her views were echoed consistently during the five days of the event held in Ottawa, Canada. Delegates said they were worried about extremism, school shootings and the millions of children missing out on school because of warfare and violence.

Philipa Harvey of the National Union of Teachers (UK) proposed a resolution about “Education, Peace and Justice in Conflict Areas to Congress”. She said the world should not have to witness the abduction and killing of students and teachers.

Children’s choir at congress opening ceremony Picture: Education International

Her resolution instructs Education International’s Executive Board to encourage its affiliates in more than 170 countries to promote peace, justice and conflict resolution. It urges the more than 400 member trade unions to press governments to adopt and endorse international guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict.

Another resolution about tackling extremism was put forward by Arthur Frederick Brown, of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT). He said: “Education is key to tackling extremism in all its forms

“The role of teachers and trade unions is to promote the values of equity, solidarity, democracy and respect for others.”

An urgent resolution on the situation of Colombian teachers was proposed by Pedro José Hernández Castillo, of FECODE. He called on the congress to support FECODE’s demand that the government and insurgents keep negotiating to find a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict. He added: “We need to make sure that schools are safe sanctuaries across the globe.”

Safe schools and providing education in emergencies has been a major topic in recent months. At the Oslo Education Summit earlier this month, the Global Humanitarian Platform and Fund for Education in Emergencies was agreed. Read more about it here.

The Education International congress also heard about the plight of millions of child labourers across the world who are denied their right to education and health care.

Speakers called for education trade unions to work with other unions, civil society organisations, governments and international institutions to eliminate child labour.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailish Satyarthi, founder of the Global March Against Child Labour, said unions and teachers played a key role in setting up the organisation. He added: “I refuse to think the world is so poor that it cannot bring all children to school.”

A new Education International video – which you can watch above – was also presented to the congress. It celebrates the contribution of education support personnel in the education of children.