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Teacher unions and (education) crises: Effectiveness of social dialogue in Francophone Africa

When: Wednesday, April 28, 2021 - 17:00 - Wednesday, April 28, 2021 - 18:30
Timezone:
Europe/Paris
Organizers:
  • CIES 2021

General presentation of the Panel
Rarely have education systems been subjected to such upheavals. The COVID pandemic has shutdown schools for many months, exams have been postponed, and many children, especially girls, will not be returning to school. The pandemic will most likely have long-term negative consequences for educational achievements and children’s well-being.

Teachers have acted as true leaders (UNESCO, 2020). From one moment to another, their work routine was interrupted, yet they were tasked with upholding education systems . and ensuring learning continuity. Where technologically possible, this happened in the form of distance education. Yet many teachers were also involved by helping to contribute to self-learning materials, radio programs and returning to school under very difficult circumstances to finalize the school year.

Under these conditions, dialogue between education authorities, teachers and parents is crucial in developing a consensual response in health and education to the pandemic and its impact.

Unions are the representative bodies for teachers that ought to advocate and fight for teachers’ rights. However, they are not always included in policy-making processes. The COVID pandemic offers a possibility to analyze to what extent teachers' unions are involved in the development of education policies in this particular crisis context? This panel will explore this question, focusing on various forms of social dialogue in Francophone African countries.

Education sector monitoring processes have been formalized since the inception of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) in 2002, but the degrees of effective involvement of teachers' unions vary (Global Partnership for Education, 2017). For example, teacher unions are usually not sufficiently involved in joint sector reviews. The Civil Society Fund for Education (CSEF) facilitated an increased and more regular participation of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), in sectoral dialogue mechanisms (Universalia, 2018).

The UNESCO and Education International project “Improving support for teachers and their participation in local education groups” has enabled teacher unions to participate more effectively in social dialogue with some national governments. More recently, civil society actors, trade unionists and experts are also organized into a network to develop a teachers’ union training project (FORSNYC).

What is social dialogue?
As defined by the International Labor Organization (ILO), social dialogue includes all types of negotiation, consultation or simply exchange of information between representatives of governments, employers and workers, in various ways, on questions relating to policy, economic and social issues of common interest. In particular, the ILO (2020) stipulates that social dialogue aims to encourage the formulation of a consensus between the main actors of the world of work as well as their democratic participation. In education, effective social dialogue can meaningfully improve the education policy process and increase the effectiveness of education and the quality of education.

Magagi (2020) makes several points that are relevant for a discussion of teacher unions’ role in policy-making in Francophone Africa during and after COVID. First, unions have been strongly linked to the political/decolonization struggle. Second, in the wake of democratization in the 1990s, unions have been created and functioned in the shadow of political parties. Third, as a result, the number of unions has proliferated. In taking the example of Niger, Magagi argues that unions in Niger would need to distance themselves clearly from political parties to regain independence.

Indeed, many unions were created only to serve as a bridgehead for political parties to the labor movement. Personal interests and the disproportionate political ambitions of union leaders in political parties have done a lot of damage and created several divisions in the ranks of African trade unions. Offering one possible solution, several national trade union centers have succeeded in redefining the objective boundaries between trade unionism and political parties (BIT 2010).

Social dialogue during the pandemic
Regarding the management of the pandemic, social dialogue has taken place, but many of the unions have expressed dissatisfaction with its outcomes. At the time of writing this article, little to no information has been collected in relation to this topic, except Education International undertook a survey of unions in 34 African countries. Indeed, despite 71% of unions having been consulted according to the COVID-19 and education survey (Education International Research, 2020), only 9% say their views have been fully taken into account. For 51%, their opinion was taken into account a few times while 11% said their opinion was ignored. A significant proportion of unions (28%) claim that they have not been consulted at all.

In addition to the dialogue with governments around the management of the pandemic, almost all unions (92%) have sensitized members around the pandemic. A significant portion (38%) invested in the development of tools for their members.

It is clear that in general (62% of cases) no measures have been taken to support teachers according to the Education International survey. Only 13% of governments have recruited more qualified teachers, posing the problem of managing additional classrooms, following the reduction in class sizes for the application of barrier measures. Note that 28% of governments have invested in the training and professional development of their teachers.

Given this background, this panel brings together different viewpoints and experiences to discuss policy and practice with regard to social dialogue between teacher unions, governments and other stakeholders in Francophone African countries.

Three complementary presentations come together to achieve this objective.

  • First, insights from past and on-going research carried out by UNESCO and by the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 will shed light on a variety of experiences and lessons learned.
  • Second, the aforementioned FORSYNC project highlights practical approaches to foster unions technical capacities.
  • Third, a critical empirical case study from the Democratic Republic of Congo brings nuance to both lessons learned and innovative approaches by discussing the reality in a challenging policy context.


The panel will be chair by Education International, an international association of teachers’union.