The suits at the World Bank love to talk about the importance of the ‘girl child.’ As they put it, ‘Of all the goals, educating children — particularly girls — has the greatest impact on eliminating poverty.’
And this is of course the frequently reiterated mantra of education ‘reformers’ from Bill Gates to (Sir) Michael Barber.
Interesting then that according to Education International ‘A majority of EI’s members currently live below the poverty line.’ Something doesn’t add up here. Teachers are by definition educated – at very least, they will have completed some secondary education and many have teacher training or degrees. Moreover a large proportion of teachers are women. So how come these educated women are still poor?
The answer is simple. The implication that, by giving girls an elementary education, you are well on the way to eliminating poverty is at best a naive misunderstanding and at worst a lie. Of course a few children will escape poverty, and being able to read and write will help them on their way. And of course one of the jobs of teachers is to teach such basic skills. But education alone cannot substitute for changing the economic and social relations, which have led to the immiseration of so many millions of people. Oxfam recently calculated that the annual income of the world’s richest 100 people could solve world poverty four times over. It sounds simple but of course it will never happen, as long as the system in which we are living is one where each capitalist is competing to accumulate more capital than the next one.
The United Nations has set up a Global Education First Initiative in a putative effort to reach the goal of universal primary education by 2015. A major partner organisation is the Global Business Coalition for Education. It includes a roll call of global corporations – Pearson ‘always earning’, or Nokia – fighting tax avoidance claims in India. On the list also is US Common Core promoter, Exxon Mobil, which has reportedly polluted vast swaths of the Niger delta and is making megabucks out of extracting oil in the country with the greatest number of out of school children in the world. The truth is that in their race to accumulate more and more of the world’s riches, the only interest of these corporations in education is to have a minimally literate and unquestioning workforce, and of course to try to make themselves look like the good guys while they are at it.
Images of smiling girls sitting at desks in their school uniforms must not be allowed to hide the truth that their usually female teacher is a living rebuttal of the idea that education alone will eliminate poverty. And in so far as they earn at all many of those same smiling girls will soon be sitting in sweatshops, manufacturing goods for corporations. It is time for the leaders of teaching unions, and in particular Education International, to stop giving credence to the myth that education can eliminate poverty, which is used both to let corporations off the hook and to hoist teachers onto it – making them responsible for ending the misery caused by the frenzied accumulation of profit in fewer and fewer suit pockets.
Other stories from teachers and their unions round the world:
- China April 17th: Teachers in Wuyang county have been on strike against the failure to pay them properly, exacerbated by a system of performance related pay, which has seen their basic salaries held back by local governments
- UK April 21st: Teachers in England and Wales vote to step up their campaign to defend state education at the two big annual union conferences. More strikes will take place in June.
- British Columbia April 23rd: Teachers in BC, Canada began the first stage of their industrial action against budget cuts, which particularly affect children with special needs
- US April 23rd: Two big victories for teachers campaigning against neo-liberal ‘reform’: the cancellation of the Gates funded big data project inBloom, and teachers at the private firm Kaplan win the right to organise after a long struggle
- Bahrain April 25th: Mahdi abu Dheeb leader of the teachers union is still in jail and suffering ill treatment – the campaign for his release continues
- Ecuador April 25th: An international campaign is launched for the release of teachers’ leader Mary Zamora and two other union leaders, jailed for ‘libelling’ the President
- Nigeria April 28th: 230 schoolgirls are still missing in the North after being abducted at gunpoint. Families say the state is not making a strong enough effort for their release
- Turkey April 28th: The Turkish government has banned a Mayday protest for democracy in Taksim Square, Istanbul, called by teaching unions among others. An international campaign is launched to reverse the decision
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