The World Bank is turning its focus once again to ‘reforming’ education in Latin America.

El Renacimiento School in Villa Nueva Guatemala. Photo: World Bank

El Renacimiento School in Villa Nueva Guatemala. Photo: World Bank

‘The issue is no longer about quantity or access to schools, but the quality of schools,’ says a World Bank spokesperson. The Bank will shortly issue a ‘hard-hitting’ report which will focus on selecting, evaluating and incentivising teachers.

The lead researcher on the project is WB economist Barbara Bruns, who has advocated performance related pay and short term contracts for teachers as co-author of ‘Making Schools Work’, the cover of which shows a teacher from the global South asleep in the classroom.

Like Bill Gates, the US public education supremo who dropped out of education and sends his children to private school, Ms Bruns is fond of blaming public school teachers for the failure to reach the goal of Education For All and indeed for poverty itself (a subject on which global South teachers know a good deal more than Ms Bruns). To solve this dilemma of teachers who can’t ‘even be got to show up’ (Gates) and when they do, don’t ‘perform’ well, she suggests, among other things:

Video cameras can be placed in classrooms to collect regular footage of teachers at work that can be evaluated against clear rubrics.

The emphasis is on the collection of data, which purports to show the effectiveness or otherwise of teachers. It is this which also drives the so-called Learning Metrics Task Force – a co-production of UNICEF and the US Brookings Institute, a think-tank which was one of the main cheerleaders for the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. The task force co-chair is Sir Michael Barber of the mega education corporation Pearson. Pearson’s involvement is unsurprising – the profits to be made out of education data-mining are immense.

The World Bank rightly expects resistance from teachers and their unions to their ‘reform’ plans for Latin America. Dressed in the language of social justice, these data collecting initiatives, run directly counter to the development of critical pedagogies in which Latin American educationists have lead the field. Ironically, Peru is singled out by the Bank as a country which is ‘moving in the World Bank’s direction.’ It is in Peru that the union SUTEP, in the teeth of government opposition, has been pioneering the development of new pedagogies for rural and indigenous areas, which would of course not figure on any US-centric matrix.

The apple meme at the top of Ms Brun’s article is, I suppose, a tired metaphor for teachers – with the bad apple in the middle. It is interesting that the apples are of an identical variety and look tasteless and bland, presumably the goal of the World Bank for teachers. Here’s an idea for Ms Bruns – why don’t you retrain as a teacher and work for a year in a remote rural community, where neither English nor Spanish are spoken? Do it on a teacher’s wages and in the kind of conditions typically experienced by teachers and children. To give you a hand we’ll put a TV camera in your classroom – and after you’ve been doing it for a year, we’ll send an economist to come and evaluate you and if you’re a bad apple we’ll ‘deal with’ you . . ..

Also on Teacher Solidarity this week

Australia: 1st April – Teachers struck against education cuts in Western Australia, which are having a particularly detrimental effect on children with special needs.

Morocco: 6th April – Teachers joined thousands of others protesting in Casablanca against cuts and government corruption and torture.

Maldives: 6th April – Teachers wore black to school – despite threats from the government – in a protest against low pay and underfunding for education

Greece: 9th April – Teachers took part in a further one day general strike in Greece against the ‘austerity’ measures, which are devastating public services and the poor who rely on them

Norway: 12th April – Teachers protested against threats to their negotiating rights – a future strike is not ruled out

Puerto Rico: 12th April – Teachers have won a significant victory against US inspired plans to ‘reform’ their pensions – the courts struck down the plans

Panama: 11th April – Teachers took strike action against government plans to introduce performance related pay


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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