CEA Vice President Tom Nicholas and Greenwich Education Association Vice President Rae Baczek traveled to Bangkok this summer as part of a National Education Association delegation to the 8th World Congress of Education International (EI). EI is a group of unions representing 32 million educators from around the world whose mission is to improve the status of the teaching profession and advance worldwide achievement of free quality public education for all. The EI World Congress, the supreme decision-making body of Education International, determines the organization’s policies, actions, program, and budget and elects its officers and executive board members.
Fifty U.S. delegates and observers were among nearly 900 educators from more than 170 countries in attendance at the 2019 EI World Congress. The theme of event, which is held every four years, was “Educators and Their Unions Taking the Lead.”
Seeking justice for all
Attending for the second time, Nicholas—who traveled to Cape Town eight years ago for the EI World Congress held there—says the weeklong event in Thailand this year struck an emotional chord.
“What’s so distressing to me is how many injustices students, teachers, and families suffer around the world when it comes to education—and how different educational access is for many, many people,” he says. “Teachers are often killed or imprisoned in other parts of the world just for doing their jobs. In many countries, educating children about social justice issues or promoting equity—especially for girls—is severely punished. We are unbelievably fortunate to live in a country that advances human rights and supports free public education for all. Even though we have work to do to improve educational access, close the achievement gap, and more, it’s striking to me that in many countries, children have few rights, if any, and education is off-limits to girls, or it’s not free. It’s available only to those who can afford it.”
United we stand
Nicholas notes that many oppressive governments prohibit delegations from attending the EI World Congress.
“Individuals from some countries come on their own at great risk of arrest upon their return if it’s discovered that they attended this event,” he says, adding, “It’s so important to hear what’s going on in the world of education and to understand how fortunate we are in this country. Could we improve? Certainly. But we don’t face the same fears that educators do around the globe, and we enjoy so many freedoms that others are denied.”
He adds that much of EI’s work centers on strengthening unions and defending their right to exist.
“We have so many rights here in the United States, including the right to organize, and it’s important that we not take that for granted, especially as there are always going to be groups pushing to weaken unions and silence our collective voice.”
Topics of the EI World Congress also included expanding access to early childhood education, providing for the education of indigenous children, educating refugees and immigrants, and establishing or improving school facilities in places that lack electricity or have been wiped out by disasters related to climate change.
Forty-year teaching veteran Rae Baczek, who teaches high school mathematics in Greenwich, has attended six EI World Congresses, some as close as Ottawa, Canada, and others as far as Germany, South Africa, and Brazil. Baczek, whose husband of 53 years passed away last year, said this year’s trip had special significance for her.
“I met my husband in Thailand when we were both serving in the Peace Corps, so being back here was especially moving for me. We spent the first years of our marriage in Thailand teaching high school students English as a second language.”
Baczek says she enjoys meeting and talking to delegates from around the U.S. as well as other parts of the world.
“You hear about what it’s like in places where there are 50 students to a classroom, with no desks and no chairs. One of the things that amazes me is listening to the stories of people who will fight for public education even if it means going to jail, even if it means putting their lives in danger. I always share what I’ve learned with my colleagues back home, not only to reinforce how lucky we are—because the problems we have here are exponentially greater in other countries—but also to reinforce how important our own initiatives are, like #RedforEd. We need to maintain free, quality public education.”
Education, Baczek stresses, is political, and that’s why it’s critical to stay politically active. She notes that anytime teachers and parents fail to elect pro-public-education candidates, they risk eroding the rights they have and the progress we have made as a nation.
“We need to stay on top of public education and not let private interests take over.”