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Blog
  • 01.06.2022

We must pay attention to West Africa’s teacher strikes

By Anna C. Conover, Consultant, and Peter Wallet, Project Officer, International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030


Recurrent teacher strikes taking place across West Africa, including in Ghana, Guinea, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Togo and Senegal in the last six months signify serious labour relations challenges and affect quality education. Among their complaints and demands, teachers cite low and unpaid salaries, arrears and stipends; poor working conditions; lengthy and cumbersome promotion processes; understaffed and overcrowded classrooms; and challenges related to certification and lack of professional recognition.

The causes of this situation are numerous. In fact, many countries in the region have made significant progress to improve education access over the past two decades. For example, the net enrolment rate doubled in Burkina Faso and in Niger, reaching 76% and 59% respectively by 2020, a trend that has taken place in most countries in West Africa to varying degrees.

Yet to achieve gains in access, efforts to raise the status of the profession have stalled. Countries in the region have made policy tradeoffs that included the mass recruitment of contract teachers who typically receive lower pay and are given less support than their civil service counterparts. Poor working conditions compounded to the lack of strategy to integrate contract teachers into the civil service, result in growing frustrations which have often led to strikes. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on non-civil service teachers has exacerbated the situation due to the non-payment or delay of contract teachers’ salaries.

Disruption and discontent

Teacher strikes inevitably reduce classroom time for students and add to other factors which affect education quality and lead to learning loss, such as inadequate funding, teacher shortages, poor infrastructure, and so on. In Guinea-Bissau, for example, during the last 5 years, teacher strikes have negatively affected at least one third of the school year. In various other West African countries, frustration has mounted to the point that students have taken to the streets to ask for their right to an education. This occurred last January in Senegal as students, after enduring several weeks without classes and fearing a lack of preparation for their exams, marched to demand a prompt solution to the standoff between the government and teacher unions.

As countries emerge from COVID-19 related school closures, the fear of losing another school year grips students and families. In Senegal, fear over the prospect of an “année blanche” or a lost academic year marked the beginning of 2022. With a series of walk-outs and strikes, teachers demanded their government to honor agreements reached in 2018 regarding compensation structures.

Halts to education do not only affect local populations but also impact knowledge building at a global scale. Academic strikes are currently taking place in Nigeria to demand the implementation of a 2009 agreement to improve compensation and invest in Nigerian university-level research.

One of the challenges for the advancement of teacher interests in the region is the fragmentation into small teacher unions which often go unrecognized by authorities. In Togo, for instance, The Togolese Teachers' Union (SET) has been on strike to demand, among other things, a housing allowance, the hiring of additional teachers to reinforce the workforce and better recognition of the profession. However, for the Togolese government – which does not officially recognize the SET– this strike has no legal basis and has removed over 100 striking teachers from their positions.

Improving mechanisms for social dialogue at all stages of policy development is crucial to prevent and better handle crises

Often characterized as confrontational rather than collaborative, the relationship between governments and teachers’ organizations needs to be reframed. Social dialogue, which the International Labour Organization defines as “[all] types of negotiation, consultation or simply exchange of information between or among, representatives of governments, employers and workers, on issues of common interest relating to economic and social policy” is an important means to align government and teacher objectives and establish harmony between both parties in the pursuit of providing quality education.

As outlined in the Teacher Policy Development Guide, effective policy development requires creating spaces and mechanisms that facilitate social dialogue between governments and all stakeholders, particularly teachers and their representatives. The urgency to address problems precipitated by crises could help forge stronger cooperation between governments and teacher unions for policy development. Unfortunately, in part due to the rapid global measures to close schools, examples of fruitful social dialogue between governments and trade unions were not frequently observed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. During education recovery, however, standoffs between teacher unions and their governments may be mitigated by ensuring teachers are included in all levels of the policy development process in a permanent way.

Critical lessons to enhance social dialogue

To strengthen social dialogue in sub-Saharan Africa, both union leaders and governments must have a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities. Union leaders need better training on how education systems work to effectively communicate teachers’ needs through existing channels, participate in policy-making and to advocate for and mobilize their constituents. On their part, governments need to understand their responsibilities to uphold fundamental principles and rights at work including freedom of association and collective bargaining. Joint training with governments, relevant employers’ organizations and teacher unions is one way to strengthen the practice of social dialogue in education.

Freedom of association and collective bargaining as well as union autonomy and legitimacy are also essential to avoid being perceived as being overly politicized. By supporting transparent channels of communication and coming up with clear and unifying arguments, unions can gain the strength needed for effective collective bargaining and negotiation. They should avoid fragmentation and competing interests and instead join together to advocate for the interests of teachers at different levels and situations. Unions also need to better involve women who are often under-represented, particularly in leadership roles.

To foster participation and democratic governance, governments and unions should favor a national or local context-based approach with transparent, participatory and accountable political dialogue. It is also important to ensure that the principal activities that contribute to social dialogue – information sharing, consultation, negotiation – can take place frequently, transparently and with positive results.

Mediation and conflict resolution strategies to avoid losing sight of the common goal of quality education for all

In some cases, mediating bodies and broader social participation in education have been instrumental in facilitating amicable agreements between unions and the government. In Senegal, the National Coalition for Education for All considers that part of its mission is to ensure the appeasement of the educational system, and took part in the successful negotiation of the recent agreements regarding pensions and career validations schemes.

The Teacher Policy Development Guide notes that participation in the policy-making process can take many different forms such as through consultations, formal and informal requests for advice, public hearings, and advocacy by different stakeholders. One example of inclusive policy development is in Ghana where the national Ghana Teacher Task Force was put in place to support the development of its Comprehensive National Teacher Policy (CNTP) to provide a vision and direction for the recruitment, training, development and welfare of teachers. At the core of this task force’s mission was establishing a framework for social dialogue and improving feedback mechanisms at local, regional and national levels.

In Benin, Guinea and Togo, policy-makers and parties consulted in the development of their new holistic teacher policies, agreed to develop an additional module on social dialogue in recognition of its importance at the national context.

Social dialogue to improve education quality

While previous gains in access to education are important, achieving SDG 4 to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” requires a broad approach that involves a better understanding of teachers’ motivations including their efforts to engage in collective efforts to address their needs, including, where necessary, strikes. Institutionalizing social dialogue by including teachers at each step of policy-making and clearly including its role in holistic teacher policies will remain important levers to support collective bargaining in support of teacher ownership of national education priorities and policies.

Teacher strikes in West Africa and in the broader sub-Saharan region remain under-reported in the international press, and insufficiently researched in terms of their impact on addressing teachers’ concerns, learning loss and how they affect education and society. While some evidence shows that strikes have had both short-term and longer-term impacts on students in high-income countries, evidence from sub-Saharan Africa is lacking. Understanding social dialogue’s capacity to mitigate the impacts of strikes in a systematic and context-sensitive way requires innovative approaches from a diversity of contexts and further relevant and timely research.

Photo credit: Education International

Event
  • 11.06.2021

Improving the quality of education: The role of social dialogue between governments and teachers

In our collective effort to achieve SDG 4, the voice of the teaching profession is key. In this webinar we will focus on the importance of cooperation between the authorities and teacher unions to provide quality education for children and students.

To secure quality education and professional issues, social dialogue is essential. The benefits of dialogue between authorities and the teaching profession, and how it contributes to quality education, will be highlighted. We will look closer into how dialogue strengthens the development and implementation of education plans and curriculums, as well as the roles and responsibilities of the social partners in the education sector.  

The webinar will draw on the lessons learnt / experience from the Norwegian Teachers Initiative.

Participants:
Dr Yaw Osei Adutwum, Minister of Education in Ghana
Dag-Inge Ulstein, Minister of Development Cooperation Norway
Mrs Philippa Larsen, President of Ghana Association of Teachers
Mr Borhene Chakroun (UNESCO/NTI)
Steffen Handal, President of Union of Education Norway

Moderator Bård Vegar Solhjell, Director of Norad

Please register here.

News
  • 07.06.2021

Supporting social dialogue in education – Four lessons from sub-Saharan Africa

Teacher participation in policy decisions is vital to find common solutions to problems and strengthen governance in education. Social dialogue can also help harmonize policy measures and improve cooperation between governments and the teachers who implement national policy and norms in education practice. As such, it can be argued that effective social dialogue is a key factor in guaranteeing quality education. During the COVID-19 pandemic however, which globally affected more than 100 million educators and support staff, teachers and their representative organisations were seldom consulted on decisions related to school closures or re-opening.

A recent virtual panel discussion held during the 2021 Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) conference highlighted ways to give teachers a greater role in social dialogue, focusing on examples from sub-Saharan Africa. The panel brought together experts and representatives of Education International, the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030, the FORSYNC project in Togo, a union representative from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and an independent education expert on sub-Saharan Africa. The panel aimed to identify challenges and opportunities to bring about more meaningful social dialogue based on evidence and lessons from the ground.

 

Understanding social dialogue

Social dialogue is a key concept of labour negotiation widely recognised in many countries. The International Labour Organization defines it as: “[all] types of negotiation, consultation or simply exchange of information between or among, representatives of governments, employers and workers, on issues of common interest relating to economic and social policy”. In the case of the education sector, this includes exchanges between governments and teachers through their unions. Since successful social dialogue structures and processes have the potential to resolve key education challenges, they should be institutionalized and protected by law, but can also be informal or a combination of both.

Dennis Sinyolo, Chief Regional Coordinator of Education International Africa Region, underlined the importance of exchange between governments and teachers, stating that “Social dialogue is critical for teachers and the teaching profession to ensure professional consensus-building and democratic participation through collective bargaining among the principal education sector stakeholders”.

More recently, focus has also been placed on the role of social participation in education. While less commonly defined, it can be understood as the involvement of additional partners in education policy dialogue that influence decision-making and outcomes. It can include civil society organizations, non-governmental organizations, voluntary associations, parents and students, faith-based organizations, foundations and the private sector. It is considered separate and complementary to traditional social dialogue processes and mechanisms. The levels of participation of these actors may vary along with the degree of agency and voice held by those affected by education policy. These levels of participation range from consultation and dialogue, to actual deliberation, co-administration, monitoring or accountability, but have one common goal: the constant improvement of the quality and relevance of education.

During the conference, the panel members presented four key lessons about how to support meaningful social dialogue in sub-Saharan Africa.

 

Lesson 1 – Teacher representatives need training to enhance their technical capacity

In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, unions are not sufficiently prepared to participate actively and constructively in the development and monitoring of education policies and sector plans. In response to this, the Formation Syndicale (FORSYNC) project builds technical capacity of both unions and teacher organizations with training on advocacy, mobilization and how to carry out consultations and negotiations. Training also ensures that union members have better knowledge of the education system and its various channels.

According to Aichath Sidi, the FORSYNC project’s representative in Togo, technical capacity and knowledge must be strengthened to achieve effective social dialogue that improves education policies. Consultations and exchanges with unions have revealed that,

Training should focus on the process of developing education policies and their monitoring (joint sector reviews); on the use of educational indicators and teachers’ surveys; on the assessments of prior learning, the development of performance reports and the impact of the crisis, such as COVID-19, with its possibilities and effects for distance education. Additionally, the training should include a gender and an inclusive approach taking into account the most vulnerable and marginalized”.

 

Lesson 2 – Teacher unions need to be more autonomous

Social dialogue is highly dependent upon the autonomy, strength, and legitimacy of teacher unions. The case of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) showed that one of the barriers to successful social dialogue was government ministries’ view of the ‘politicization’ of different teacher unions. In addition, social dialogue can fail because of the proliferation and fragmentation of unions and the lack of clear representation.

Teacher unions need to be strong and unified to overcome existing challenges – particularly so when governments are not willing to engage in meaningful social dialogue and collective bargaining. Unions must therefore navigate between protecting their autonomy and developing political influence without being perceived as overly ‘politicized’ by governments.

Technical capacity-building and training can also help with the depoliticization of unions, affirm their autonomy, and as a consequence strengthen social dialogue. A union representative from DRC, Jacques Taty explained,

Since the beginning of this year, we have been organizing training and information sessions for different members of the trade union organizations based on the fundamental principles of ‘unionism’, to foster competent organizations and ensure well-trained teachers capable to defend their own interests and take an active role in the development of education policy, and monitoring of its implementation”. 

 

Lesson 3 – The policy environment is important

A national or local context based on transparent, participatory and accountable political dialogue is essential to foster wider social participation, democracy and governance. It is also important to ensure that the principal activities that contribute to social dialogue – information sharing, consultation, negotiation – can take place frequently, transparently and with positive results.

The FORSYNC project, however, identified an under-representation of women in different teacher unions, even though women represent a large majority of teachers in many countries. Trade unions should aim to guarantee more equal representation of females in social dialogue given their demographic weight. This is also important as previous research has shown how women play a key role to maintain union unity, and are generally less implicated in conflicts over leadership positions—a key source of conflict and discord (International Labour Office, 2010).

Other strategies have also shown potential in achieving constructive social dialogue and combat reluctance on the part of ministries to engage in it. For example, the National Federation of Teachers and Social Educators of the DR Congo/National Union of Workers of Congo (FENECO/UNTC) has adopted strategies for lobbying ministries of education including development and dissemination of press releases, radio and television broadcasts in addition to the training of trade unionists.

 

Lesson 4 – Other education actors should also be included (social participation)

Social dialogue in the education sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo is built around fundamental principles translated into law (i.e. Law n°14/004 of 14 February 2014 on national education), which guarantees a partnership approach whereby the state brings together various stakeholders to pool human, material and financial resources. It is a participatory approach fostering social participation in education aimed at involving all stakeholders in the design and management of the sector. It includes various actors including parents, promoters of approved private national educational institutions, religious denominations, grassroots communities, provinces, decentralized territorial entities, national public companies and private and non-governmental organizations. According to M. Taty,

“Since the participation of other partners is also crucial, unions should move away from the traditional role of mere demands/claims, a role that has shown its limits”.

In the era of globalization, it is necessary to rethink alliances, and unions should develop new partnerships such as with research centers and universities, which could contribute to networks promoting learning, research and discussion.

The FORSYNC project is supported by the Centre Research and Opinion Polls (CROP), which is an independent and non-politicized organization of African researchers working in different sectors. CROP has been the national partner in Togo of the Afrobarometer research network since 2012 and has already conducted four editions of surveys in Togo in parallel with other studies. These surveys gauge public opinion on economic, political, and social issues across the African continent.  More recently, the project has also hosted discussions with unions and disseminated articles to ensure greater visibility of unions and their needs. Some training has also already been conducted with FENECO and further online training sessions are planned, particularly on the monitoring and evaluation of education policies.

 

Conclusion

Social dialogue between governments, employers and teachers' unions is essential to help to create a positive atmosphere in the work environment and to find concerted and consensual solutions. It is also key to help avoid overly top-down approaches in the education sector, as was experienced in some countries at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis.

To enhance teachers’ living and working conditions and improve the quality of teaching in general, teachers’ unions and other actors need to be able to propose alternative and innovative ideas that can complement those proposed by governments and private education institutions. To achieve this, unions need to demonstrate autonomy, be less fragmented, more engaged and better prepared. Training by various partners can help to close many of these gaps and empower unions to be partners in developing common responses. Furthermore, the continued engagement and openness towards other partners in policy dialogue and social participation can continue to complement traditional social dialogue structures and processes.

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Photo credit: The Sunday Times/Antonio Muchave
Caption: Teachers from independent schools and members of the SA National Civic Organisation protest outside the Gauteng education department about the non-payment of salaries.

Event
  • 23.03.2021

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

Join us for a panel discussion on Teacher unions and (education) crises: Effectiveness of social dialogue in Francophone Africa at CIES Conference 2021. The discussion will be held in Zoom Room 128.

Please register here. The event is open to CIES members only. 

The discussion will be held in English and French with live transcript and automatic closed caption in English. 

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This panel will explore various forms of social dialogue and the involvement of teachers’ unions in the development of education policies in Francophone African countries. By drawing lessons from different cases, this panel aims to problematise social dialogue while identifying issues on teacher participation in different countries and its relation to the different political economies. Additionally, the variety of cases may bring a sub-regional perspective of the context and aims to invite researches to deepen into this little-explored topic.

The different viewpoints and experiences include three complementary presentations. First, insights from an on-going research carried out by the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030 that will shed light on social dialogue in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, the FORSYNC project highlights practical approaches to foster unions technical capacities in six countries in sub-Saharan Africa. 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.

 

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 chaired by Education International, and the international association of teachers’ union.

Event
  • 23.03.2021

Futures of Teaching – Conversation between teachers and experts from the Arab States and the International Commission on the Futures of Education

WATCH THE RECORDING IN ENGLISH, FRENCH AND ARABIC

Join this unique dialogue on the futures of teaching in the Arab States and beyond, organized by the International Task Force on Teachers for Education 2030, in collaboration with Hamdan Foundation and the Futures of Education initiative.

The unprecedented disruption to schools caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, impacting over 63 million teachers worldwide, has shone the spotlight on the challenges of educational systems preparedness to adapt rapidly to changing demands. With sudden switch to distance learning, teachers found themselves in unconventional settings that require more than digitized curricula and adaptive teaching methods and tools. The pandemic has further reinforced the need to ensure continuous teacher professional development, psychological support and socioemotional learning, a reinforcement of teacher's rights and working conditions, as well as ongoing research and assessment of rapidly changing teaching and learning.

The 90-minute consultation will provide a space for dialogue, between members of the International Commission on the Futures of Education and teachers and lead experts from the region and beyond. 

Panellists will include:

  • Antonio Novoa, Ambassador of Portugal to UNESCO and a member of the International Commission - Futures of Education initiative
  • Carlos Vargas Tamez, Head of the Secretariat for the International Task force on Teachers for Education 2030 and Teacher Development Section, UNESCO
  • Christine Safwat, Executive Director of Educate Me Foundation, Egypt
  • Elisa Guerra, Founder of Colegio Valle de Filadelfia, Mexico and a member of the International Commission - Futures of Education initiative      
  • Hilmi Hamdan, Educational expert and trainer at the General Union of Palestinian Teachers, Palestine
  • Malak Zaalouk, Director at the Middle East Institute for Higher Education at the American University in Cairo, Egypt

  • Najwa Al Hosani, Acting Dean, College of Education, United Arab Emirates University, United Arab Emirates
  • Sobhi Tawil, Director of the Futures of Education initiative, UNESCO

The outcomes will be summarized in a report to be submitted to the Futures of Education Initiative, feeding into the final report to be released in November 2021.

The event will offer simultaneous interpretation in English, French and Arabic and is open to all.

Consult the concept note and the detailed programme with the speakers' bios.

Register here.