Question: Australia, Honduras, England, Turkey, Tunisia, Spain, India, Madagascar, Pakistan – what have all these countries got in common?
Answer: All of these countries have had teacher strikes in the last month.
And this is not unusual. Every month, more and more teachers across the world are striking. But despite high levels of teacher militancy, few people get to hear about these actions.
Yet these struggles are highly significant in an era in which corporations have recognised education as a huge potential source of revenue, and international institutions such as the World Bank are attempting to shift education towards the needs of capital, through neo-liberal ‘reforms’ such as privatisation, cuts in education spending, reductive curricula, endless box-ticking and testing, performance-related pay, vouchers etc.
Even the recently condemned News Corporation is building up its own education business – selling online ‘education’ to schools, which Rupert Murdoch boasts will be worth $500 billion in the US alone. No wonder that in 2009, he told Barack Obama: “The President must have the courage and the strength to take on the teachers and win”. No wonder either that the World Bank regards teaching unions as one of the major ‘blocks to reform’.
Just as the level of teacher militancy is relatively unreported, so are the conditions in which teachers – particularly in the Global South – have to work. In many countries classes of over 100 are commonplace, as are schools without any sanitary facilities, and sometimes schools don’t even have buildings. Teachers are typically the lowest paid public servants – usually earning much less than the military and the police – and often have to exist on $2 a day or less.
Little wonder that teaching unions in many parts of the Global South are engaged in campaigns to improve conditions for teachers and their pupils and to improve their meagre salaries – often not sufficient for even basic survival. Those of us who teach in the richer North could not imagine working under these conditions or for this pay. Nonetheless the discourse in the media about teachers in the Global South – insofar as it exists at all – is often derogatory. Education in the Global South is regarded as an object of charity, while the fact that millions of teachers in those countries are struggling against the odds to provide children with education is ignored.
Another huge issue for teachers internationally – just as it is for many other sectors – is precarious work. The use of untrained or even trained teachers on temporary contracts on a fraction of already low pay is actively encouraged by the World Bank – which sees it as a way of both saving money and of disciplining teachers who are continually in fear of losing their jobs. Even in the last few weeks, there have been strikes over this issue in Kenya, Pakistan and Nepal.
There are also frequent strikes against privatisation. Just as Australian and English teachers are striking against the handing over of state schools to private companies, so teachers in Chile, Costa Rica and India have taken action against privatisation during the past few weeks.
There is one important respect in which teachers bear a unique responsibility. It falls in large part to them to enable the new generation to think critically about the world that they live in – so that they can help to transform it. It is this aspect of teachers’ work which is most feared by the organisations of capital like the World Bank – who want children to receive a minimalist education which will instil them with what it calls, ‘attitudes necessary for the workplace’, turning education into a delivery system for the requirements of capital.
Teachers in many parts of the world are fighting against this. In the US and in England there is a continuous campaign against the skewing of the curriculum towards endless standardised testing. The same fight is being waged in India, where, thanks to their efforts, testing has been banned for children under 14. In Oaxaca, Mexico, teachers are developing an emancipated curriculum free of standardised testing, even as they are being attacked by the forces of the state, arrested, ‘disappeared’ and even killed.
For more information on all of these struggles and more, click here: TeacherSolidarity: Teaching Unions. Teacher Strikes. Teacher Cuts.
This website enables teachers and all those interested in education to hear more about what is happening to their colleagues in other countries, and to realise that they are not alone in their struggle against neo-liberal education policy and for free, democratic and public education. It is attracting a growing following of readers from all over the world.
– Mary Compton is an NUT activist. She is co-editor of “The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers, and Their Unions: Stories for Resistance” and maintains the Teacher Solidarity website. For frequent updates, follow @TeachSolidarity on twitter.
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