Friday, July 3, 2009

International Guest Haldis Holst: We All Face the Same Challenges

Like anyone else visiting the NEA Representative Assembly for the first time, Haldis Holst was immediately struck by the enormity of the gathering. Holst is the vice-president of the Union of Education Norway and Education International’s vice-president for Europe.

She is also one of the fourteen international guests who will be introduced to RA delegates on Saturday.

(Calvin Knight/RA Today)

But as she settled into her seat in the South Carolina delegation (her state host) Holst got a firsthand look at how the largest teachers union in the world conducts its business (and even got to ask Secretary of Education Arne Duncan a question on Thursday ) - an experience that has confirmed what she already knew about the shared experiences of educators worldwide.

“We face so many of the same challenges – questions over testing, accountability, performance pay, dropouts. You could change the name on the outside of the convention center from NEA to Norwegian teachers union and I wouldn’t know the difference!”

Such commonalities, says Holst, make it easier for unions around the world to join forces to discuss and share strategies.

Listening to President Dennis Van Roekel’s keynote address on Friday, Haldis nodded in agreement when he spoke of how education must be transformed to adapt to the rapidly changing system of globalization and interdependence. She was also struck by his insistence that NEA be recognized, not just as a union voice, but also a professional association that cares deeply about improving the quality of education.

And even as schools face crippling cuts and the global economy struggles to recover, Holst says optimism can be found in the fact that governments around the world are acknowledging and talking about the critical role education plays.

“Even if there was money to spend, it wouldn’t matter if education wasn’t valued,” explains Holst. “But I think many countries now understand the importance of education. That is the crucial first step and teacher unions around the world pay a huge role in moving this forward.”

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