Why equality matters

The beginning of another year is traditionally a time of reflection and planning, sometimes even of ‘New Year resolutions’. For IEU members the beginning of 2022 has often been a time of dealing with COVID-19 in their families or communities and of being concerned about a safe start to the education year.

When the ACTU surveyed Australian workers about their values and priorities, there were consistent messages about the importance of employment, economic security, the environment, and access to quality health and education services.

Another value frequently cited by Australian workers, including IEU members, is equality – the ‘fair go’ often quoted as a core Aussie aspiration and central to the beliefs of most religious faiths.

It was rather concerning therefore to read in January a report from Oxfam International (whose motto is ‘the future is equal’) that the wealth of the world’s 10 richest men has doubled since the beginning of the covid pandemic, with a new billionaire being created almost every day of the pandemic.

In Australia, reports have indicated that 47 billionaires effectively doubled their wealth during the pandemic, giving them more wealth than the poorest 30 percent of Australians, some 7.7 million people.

At the same time, many workers and their families suffered the financial, physical and psychological health impacts of covid. In the words of Education International on World Teachers Day 2021, COVID has been a time of unprecedented uncertainty and the exacerbation of many economic, social, environmental, gender, and racial inequalities. Principals, teachers, and support staff have been frontline workers in dealing with these issues.

Sharp focus

Last year’s lockdown in greater Sydney sharply illustrated an equality divide, with western and south-western Sydney suburbs experiencing the impact of strict movement restrictions and challenges in accessing the COVID vaccines.

A recent Sun Herald report also indicated that these areas have been disproportionately affected by the current Omicron outbreak.

IEU members across NSW and the ACT have also expressed concerns about the digital divide affecting many families. This involves access to and use of devices for students' learning, as well as the economic impact on children in households where jobs were lost or hours of work reduced due to COVID.

As the 2022 education year begins, why is a conversation about equality important? At the heart of education is a commitment to supporting children and young people to reach their potentia. As stated in the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Declaration on Australia’s national education goals, the aim is for “every student to be the best they can be, no matter where they live or what kind of learning challenges they face”.

In the Sydney Morning Herald on 2 February, respected economic journalist Ross Gittins wrote "Let's push back on inequality ... We should measure politicians we vote for according to their willingness and ability to spread the benefits of economic life less unequally."

A more socially just, equitable and inclusive society is important for IEU members as educators, as workers and as family and community members, especially as the pandemic continues.

The IEU looks forward to working with our members in 2022 to support them industrially and professionally so that they can continue to make their vital contributions in early learning centres, in schools and in other education workplaces.