“G20: no long-lasting change without education”, by David Edwards.

The G20 Labour and Employment Ministerial meeting here in Japan is an opportunity to reflect. EI and other Global Unions are participating in the Labour 20 – L20 which represents the interests of workers at the G20 level. It importantly unites trade unions across G20 countries and our Global Union Federations and is convened by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the OECD.

Last year’s convening in Mendoza was an important one for our sector as it saw a first-ever Education 20 engagement group (called E20) set up and a Labour 20 (L20) statement that extensively covered the need for investing in quality education throughout people’s lives. It included a focus on technical and vocational education and early childhood education. Sadly, this year education seems to have all but disappeared from the L20/G20 agenda. Is this because climate change, just transitions and the future of work are not dependent on education? - far from it. 

In fact, ILO Director General, Guy Ryder reminded us at our recent 8th World Congress in Bangkok that the future of work depends fundamentally on education. He called for deeper EI and ILO collaboration on the future of work in education to help realize the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Work

A more just society and strengthened social contract will only be possible with the type of education that enables graduates of programmes not only to access jobs, but also to live more valuable lives. That means to develop citizens fully able to engage with the democracies they are part of. Not as passive consumers of what politicians tell them, but as people able to look at the world and make up their own minds.

It is lamentable that the G20 will not be acknowledging the central need for an inclusive, equitable and quality education system that develops the whole of the student for the whole of their lives. This requires well-funded schools and colleges, TVET institutions where the teachers can provide pathways that are meaningful for students - not simply a market mechanism to feed students into jobs that were relevant yesterday and not tomorrow. 

It also requires qualified teachers. Too many economies are looking for quick fixes at a time when we are being forced by existential crises to consider the long game. We are at a time where we know what works, but we are ignoring the facts. OECD has been consistent in stressing that education for sustainable futures is critical but G20 countries continue to cut investment and push privatisation solutions that have been shown not to work. 

Climate change rightly sits high on the agenda, but rogue states continue to ignore the science and are actively working to block students’ access to scientific fact. At the same time, they pay lip service to the importance of an educated workforce while we see income disparities rise and working conditions deteriorate. Political rhetoric is being hollowed out by authoritarian populists intent on short term political gain while being fully aware of medium to long term devastation.

So, what can we do? The future lies in the hands of transnational cooperation. Not one based on yesterday’s flawed market models, but on a concerted attempt to develop critical thinking in students, to provide access to lifelong educational opportunities not just for utilitarian purposes but for the purposes that we all care about and ensure we care about each other, and our planet.


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David Edwards

David Edwards is the General Secretary of Education International.

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