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#EI25: “Education International and member unions: weaving fabric of justice”, by Masaki Okajima

You might think that there is a great distance between the international trade union movement and your own union or country. But my experience as a member of the EI Executive Board has shown close links.

The Japan Teachers’ Union (JTU) was established in 1947 not long after the end of World War Ⅱ. The JTU members broke with militaristic education and based teaching on respect for peace and democracy. Since then, we have fought for autonomy and freedom from authorities for education and educators.

JTU has two aspects, as a labour union and a professional, education organization. We demand improvement of salaries and working conditions as well as propose educational policies and engage in voluntary research on educational issues. As a part of the latter, JTU has held an annual National Conference on Educational Research (NCER) since 1951. Similar conferences are held at each branch and prefecture. Those assemblies choose “rapporteurs” to represent them at JTU’s National Conference. NCER provides space for discussing ten subjects (Japanese language, math, music and others) and 14 educational issues (human rights education, peace education, international solidarity, diversity education, etc.) in breakout sessions. The participants have discussions based on local reports and reporters go back to each school/branch/prefecture with what they gain at NCER. It is a valuable opportunity for our members to develop their teaching through peer-learning.

When I was an elementary school teacher, I attended NCER as a rapporteur. My report was about my experience collaborating with the local community and parents to build a steering committee that gathered petitions to improve the salary of administrative staff and demanded allocation of librarians to schools. This experience taught me the significance of fruitful cooperation with stakeholders.

National authorities pressure the education system more and more and Japanese teachers work much longer, which threatens our educational research activities and reduces opportunities for improving our practices through peer-learning, as happens at JTU’s NCER. They demand that teachers and Educational Support Personnel (ESP) focus on how children may earn high scores at tests. Quality education based on peace, human rights, environment and cooperation has even been attacked as ‘politically biased education.’  

At the same time, too heavy a workload and excessive working hours of teachers and ESPs are regarded as social issues as a whole. As TALIS showed, Japanese teachers work longest among OECD countries and they do not have enough time to prepare for classes and research on teaching materials. Teachers and ESPs work burdens are not only issues of working conditions, but also affect children’s learning. It is necessary to reduce workloads, increase the number of educators and manage working hours in full respect of the law to solve these problems. Meeting those challenges would make it possible to resume voluntary research by educators and regain respect for autonomy.

Unfortunately, attacks against professional autonomy and trade unions can be seen everywhere on this planet. Difficulties facing Japanese educatorsin terms of workload are also related to pressures exerted at global level. At the Executive Board meetings of EI, we share those experiences and exchange good practices.

We, affiliated unions and EI, have accumulated experience and success. One of the reasons that we bring together and build the international trade union movement is to deal with these common problems, which have become both global and national. Although it seems that our steps have been small, what we have achieved for these 70 years (for JTU and 25 for EI) is huge. EI has succeeded to ensure that our voices are heard in OECD’s PISA, to establish SDG4 as an independent educational goal for the international community and to hold International Summits on the Teaching Profession (ISTP) with OECD. It means EI has workable methods and the authority to ensure that our voices are heard.

Our power as an EI family can be further strengthened by better linking international and domestic activities. This process can be described as weaving the fabric of justice; with EI and with member unions. Together, we can make a big difference for inclusive, free and quality education for all.

On 26 January 1993, Education International was founded through the merger of the International Federation of Free Teachers’ Unions (IFFTU) and the World Organisation of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP). On the occasion of the 25th anniversary, a special series of blogs #EI25, will be published throughout the year, bringing together voices and thoughts of unionists, education activists, partner organisations and friends, reflecting on past struggles and accomplishments, from which the organisation has drawn strength and inspiration to address current and future challenges facing education and the teaching profession. If you want to contribute to the series, please write to [email protected].


Masaki Okajima

Masaki Okajima is Vice President of Education International (EI), the Chairperson of EI Asia Pacific Regional Committee as well as the President of Japan Teachers’ Union (JTU).

Masaki started his career teaching in elementary schools in Ishikawa, Japan, in 1982. He joined JTU as a newly employed teacher and became an active member and union representative at the school and prefectural levels. He was elected as a member of Central Executive Committee of JTU in 2006 and as President in 2018.

He has committed himself to achieving Quality Education for All through social dialogue, representing teaching professionals. He believes that it is most important for educators to voluntarily research on teaching as professionals. Pursuing the autonomy of educators is his life’s work. 

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