Perspectives

Global trends impacting our work to ensure free, equitable, quality, inclusive education

By David Edwards
November 1, 2017

Let me begin with an understatement: “The current global context leaves much to be desired.”

INEQUALITY

You are certainly aware of the statistics in regards to growing income inequality and the concentration of wealth. Eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity. Note I said MEN.

Big business and the super-rich are fueling the inequality crisis by dodging taxes, driving down wages and using their power to influence politics.

Take a look at the swamp monster billionaire cabinet of your southern neighbor. The Public Education Secretary who has never spent time inside a public school openly admits to purchasing her post. Meanwhile cabinet and its congressional cronies are working to take health care away from the poorest in order to give a tax cut to the richest.

Call it what it is - Wealthcare.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Polluters and climate change deniers in that same country – somewhere to the south of the world’s longest continuous border of 8,893 kilometers are making decisions that will have far-reaching effects that will not respect national or terrestrial boundaries. Consider the spread of alternative-fact curricula such as clean coal teacher guides being sent around to schools with funds gushing forth from dark money nonrenewable energy lobby groups.

One thing is clear, defending educators’ right to exercise their professional discretion, freedom and autonomy to challenge has never been more important. At Education International (EI), we have been involved with the Sustainable Development education arm of COP21, 22 and have joined UNESCO to ensure that scientifically validated materials for and by teachers are widely available.

TRADE

Governments are negotiating far-reaching trade deals that will lock in place deregulation and create private, backroom international dispute settlement tribunals where public services and the public good will be at the mercy of future earning potentials and shareholder demands. At the World Trade Organization ministerial conference this winter, we will release a teacher unionists’ guide to trade deals. We will also strengthen our alliances with other global union federations and civil society organizations to shine a light on the undemocratic processes, and advocate for public education to be excluded from these trade deals.

DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Democratic institutions and systems are being eroded by a confluence of ethno-nationalist strongmen and kleptocratic oligarchs scapegoating migrants while stoking the coals of xenophobia and fear.

Democratic institutions and systems are being eroded by a confluence of ethno-nationalist strongmen and kleptocratic oligarchs scapegoating migrants while stoking the coals of xenophobia and fear. Our members are pushing back from Turkey to Poland to the Philippines to the US. And they are pushing up and lifting up as well.

Our refugee education and educator work is supporting welcoming communities that share resources and facilitate collaboration between teachers’ unions, parents groups, students unions and human right groups. Our migrant and refugee teacher portal has pulled much of the research and success stories into a single space. Here in Canada, you have stepped into the void created by those to the south and continue to demonstrate what a country of immigrants can and should do in the face of humanitarian crises.

PRIVATIZATION

Privatizers and edu-corporations are working to create a crisis of confidence in public education and then exploit that crisis to create the conditions for new deregulated education markets of varying kinds. These range from the wholesale turning over the running of schools to private companies as in Liberia, the United States, Chile and Sweden to the all too familiar outsourcing aspects of public education like school choice (where schools choose), vouchers and return on investment Key Performance Indicators (KPI). Our signature UNITE campaign seeks to take them head on, call out governments who do their bidding, backstop EI member organizations in their national campaigns to expose them, and remove their attempts to place bar codes on their students’ heads.

DEPROFESSIONALIZATION

One trend that we see in both Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Global Partnership for Education (GPE) countries is the discrediting and undermining of our profession. High teacher turnover is now a common feature of countries that have embraced the Global Education Reform Movement or GERM approach. The mode in the country to your south is now one year and teacher shortages are gripping the United Kingdom and Sweden. Conservative and anti-public education forces have used the hubris of the “lazy unionized” teacher to promote teacher accountability policies like VAM (we have a white paper that pulls together the research that refutes VAM on our Research webpage by the way) and attack teachers’ professional status in an effort to recast our pedagogical practice, developmental diagnoses and subject expertise as mere content delivery.

I don’t need to refer to the complexity of teaching and the importance of knowing your students well. How many students have come to our schools after losing a loved one, without the proper breakfast or eyeglasses or as victims of bullying and violence… these are our realities.

In the most recent EI submission to the CEART – the Committee of Experts that oversees the implementation of the ILO-UNESCO recommendations on the status of the teaching profession (recommendations that started over 50 years ago), we referred to the results of a survey of our members that indicated a significant and worrying trend for countries to lower entry standards into teaching, water down if not eliminate qualifications as a requirement for employment, and reduce the profession’s say in the setting of the standards that govern it.

Many know of Teach for Canada but fewer know of Teach for All, the umbrella organization of 30 plus Teach for Somethings backed by Fortune 500 companies and the World Bank to systematically remove regulations and standards around teaching so selected volunteers can have some professional development on the backs of poor children.

Many know of Teach for Canada but fewer know of Teach for All, the umbrella organization of 30 plus Teach for Somethings backed by Fortune 500 companies and the World Bank to systematically remove regulations and standards around teaching so selected volunteers can have some professional development on the backs of poor children. Better to call it Teach for Myself, as its founder readily admits. It is a more expensive and less sustainable model. It no longer claims to be addressing the teacher shortage. It’s about giving future bankers and lawyers a bit of charity experience on their way to more lucrative careers.

EI is pushing back on this trend. Not only were we successful in having teacher qualifications and credentials included as targets in the Sustainable Development Goals, the GPE’s strategic plan and the Education 2030 Framework for Action, we convened a professional issues conference in Rotterdam in May 2017. The objective was to bring together all the great work that unions are doing to lead the profession and see what principles or guidelines we could endorse globally to ensure our profession remains in control over the core elements that define it.

If we want to say that teacher education, qualifications, praxis, professional development, collaboration and teaching conditions matter, it stands to reason that we don’t help those who would like to replace us with untrained content delivery machines in flipped classrooms or remote control us with standardized and automated programs. We know you get it and we are thankful for the work CTF and The Alberta Teachers’ Association have done on We the Educators launched in Rotterdam.

KNOWLEDGE

On the science and knowledge production front, we are seeing a proliferation of a “triple-pay” system, in which “the state funds most research, pays the salaries of most of those checking the quality of research, and then buys most of the published product”.

You may wonder who benefits from such an arrangement? Check out the six-billion dollar in annual revenues publishing giant Elsevier for starters. Researchers and academics are becoming slaves to publishers. What other industry receives its raw materials from its customers, gets those same customers to carry out the quality control of those materials, and then sells the same materials back to the customers at a vastly inflated price?

When you control 25 percent of the market, exploit higher education faculty and sue anyone that tries to make knowledge openly accessible, EI takes notice.

Watch the space.

DEVELOPMENT

Thanks to your engagement in the UNITE campaign, the world’s educators came together to achieve a stand-alone global goal for free, inclusive quality education as part of the 17 SDGs. We fought back the word “affordable” and held the ground on “free”.

From your actions over the years, I also know CTF cares deeply about access to quality public education for all students, in every corner of the globe. Not just those within your borders, though I know they are deeply fortunate to have you and your Member organizations on their side. Thanks to your engagement in the UNITE campaign, the world’s educators came together to achieve a stand-alone global goal for free, inclusive quality education as part of the 17 SDGs. We fought back the word “affordable” and held the ground on “free”. We reasserted the centrality of qualified, trained and supported teachers for achieving what became a broad and bold goal. The UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed (who also helped us culminate the UNITE campaign) said at a high level UN event that education is the docking station for all our other goals. Nice imagery. However, we still have an unfinished agenda. Some 263 million students are still out of school and we will need 69 million more teachers by 2030.

Global funding for education has been slipping at a time when the need is growing. When I was in Canada in June with Juliet Wajega to attend the GPE board meeting, I expressed EI’s concern and insistence that donor countries deliver on their assistance commitments, developing countries strengthen their domestic resource mobilization and that snake oil salesmen selling innovative financing mechanisms take their pyramid ponzi schemes elsewhere. I hear there’s a place south of here where they didn’t go so well and the whole planet paid the price.

THE GLOBAL CONSULTANCY

We at EI and in cooperation with CTF also spend a lot of time working on and strategizing around another global platform that is quite influential – the OECD.

What are we tracking?

Through the seven international Summits on the Teaching Profession, the Trade Union Advisory Committee – TUAC and a host of committees and working groups where many ministries preferred we sit out…

Just off the top of my head: PISA, TALIS, PIAAC, Education at a Glance, the slow rise of their Education 2030 Project, the relaunched AHELO, the Global Education Industry Summits, CERI, the skills strategy, PISA 4 Development, PISA for Schools, the GPS project…the DAC, the EDPC... Client governments around the world rely on the advice and data that OECD produces so we ensure a line of sight of their activities and communicate that to our members.

The OECD and the World Bank are perhaps the two most influential institutions whose products and advice directly impact on our Member organizations. Globally, competent teacher union leaders need to understand how they work and how to organize effectively to resist their most destructive economic and policy advice whether that be in relation to pay and conditions, testing and evaluation, flexibility, automation or privatization. Last year, we produced a study looking at the World Bank’s punitive teacher policy called World Bank Doublespeak on Teachers (PDF), again available in the resource section of our website.

The World Bank’s President Jim Kim is a fan of for-profit private schools for the Global South. The Bank in many aspects remains the incubator for shoddy, market-driven fads and disruptive innovations. Maybe we should implement a performance pay scheme for them where their salaries are linked to inequality?

At the end of the day, it will come down to the power of our ideas, the strength of our ideals, the persistence of our will, the courage of our convictions and the speed with which we can organize and mobilize.

If we are going to buck these trends, our response must be both global and local.

This article was based on remarks made by David Edwards, Deputy General Secretary of Education International on July 10, 2017, at the CTF Canadian Forum on Public Education in Ottawa.

David Edwards is the Deputy General Secretary of Education International.

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Perspectives web magazine is published by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), a national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations that represent over 238,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada.

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