“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.
— Nelson Mandela
In this quotation, Mandela sums up in just a few words the potential impact that education can have as a force for change for individuals, communities, the world. However, other forces are also at play, and as change sweeps over the face of economies, countries, and public education, we see reasons for optimism but also for grave concern.
On the one hand, we see education as a powerful agent for change in the push for gender equality and universal access to free, inclusive, quality public education. Since the year 2000, when the Millennium Development Goals were set, more than 50 million children have gained entry to school and work is being done in many parts of the world to improve the quality of public education. At the International Summit on the Teaching Profession this past March in Wellington, New Zealand, the key question was: How can we ensure educational equity in diverse student populations and education systems? There is an ongoing global focus on girls’ education. The Canadian publicly-funded public education system is hailed worldwide for its educational success and equitable outcomes.
On the other hand, we also see economic forces acting upon entire public education systems, including our own, that would make education a commodity to be sold for profit, would privatize schools, and exert enormous pressure on both the teaching profession and individual teachers. These forces would make public education not free, but “affordable,” a guaranteed route to inequality. Meanwhile, income inequality is growing worldwide. Further, sixty million children have yet to cross the threshold of a school, and, at the current pace of change, it will be nearly a century before all girls in sub-Saharan Africa will have access to upper secondary school.
The work of CTF this year has been inspired by all these forces.
A key concern for CTF continues to be the erosion of democracy in Canada and proposed government measures that would harm organizations advocating for quality publicly-funded public education and the rights of teachers and other groups of workers. Bill C-377, which would have amended the Income Tax Act in a way that discriminated against employee organizations, has been stopped. Thanks to determined advocacy by a broad cross-section of Canadians, including CTF, Bill C-23 (the “Fair Elections Act”) underwent significant positive amendments before being passed. Youth unemployment and underemployment, child poverty, and child mental health are on-going areas of focus.
Women’s equality has seen particular emphasis this year. The CTF Women’s Symposium held in Whitehorse addressed violence against women and the trafficking of women and girls. A CTF petition calling for a federal inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women was presented to the Government of Canada. At both the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and the Education International World Women’s Conference, there was a sense of urgency about achieving women’s equality, which Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy, has described as the “new global civil rights movement.”
Sustaining and strengthening the teaching profession in Canada remains an important focus of CTF’s work. There is no question that, given increasing demands from governments and employers, the impacts of government austerity measures, the increasing diversity and breadth of student needs, and the integration of technology into the education workplace, teachers experience little respite from already heavy workloads. This year, CTF conducted a survey on teacher workload-work life balance, to which 8,000 teachers across the country responded. The study outcomes confirmed that teachers struggle to achieve that balance. At home, they feel that they don’t have the time they need either with their families or for their own health. At work, they feel they don’t have the needed time to spend with each child.
In the light of these findings and the pressures being applied to the teaching profession, the public education system, and our society more broadly, CTF is launching VOX 3.0, the third phase of our “Hear My Voice” advocacy campaign, whose purpose is to exercise influence on decision-makers and to make teachers’ perspectives known and heard. This campaign dovetails well with the Education International “Unite for Quality Education” campaign, which will conclude on World Teachers’ Day, October 5, 2014. The focus of the campaign is the importance of publicly-funded public education to the democratic and economic strength of all nations, and the responsibility of governments to provide the necessary funding, policy environment, and collaborative context for these education systems to grow and flourish.
As the school year closes, let us take pride once again in the wonderful work being done by teachers in schools throughout our country. Let us be resolute in support for the teaching profession and for our teacher organizations, whose life and work are essential to the success of the public education system. Let us stand together in solidarity with one another and work collectively to advance the cause of our profession, public education, and the truly democratic Canadian society we cherish.
I would like to express my thanks to the Board of Directors of CTF for their wisdom and commitment throughout the year, to the teachers from across the country who have given of their time and expertise to the work of CTF Advisory Committees and other CTF activities, and to the staff of CTF, who put their heart and soul into CTF’s work every day.
President's Speech AGM 2014