Passionate discussions were held at the EI Education in Crisis Seminar, organised on 18-19 October in Brussels, Belgium. Participants from education unions worldwide and international organisations reiterated the need for strong teacher unions and investing in education to sustainably recover from the current economic and financial crisis.
On 18 October, the round table discussion: Strategies for exiting the crisis and policies for future economic growth, was moderated by Roland Schneider, Senior Policy Advisor to the trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). He started by highlighting that austerity measures imposed by or upon many governments worldwide do not work. “When you are in a hole, stop digging!” he said. “Trade unions must convince governments that they are on the wrong track. The key challenge is to find convincing ways of exiting the crisis and fight for a paradigm shift in economic and social policies.”
Teacher unions must contribute shaping the post-crisis future
ETUCE (EI region) Director Martin Rømer tan took the floor, stressing that “the current crisis is not the only one we have had since the fifties, and there will be an exit. But will we decide which kind of exit we want, or will we let others, i.e. the market, decide?
“We must remember that the current debt crisis in Europe in Europe has been created because we had bank bailouts,” he said. “Between October 2008 and October 2011, 4.5 trillion euros went to European banks. This caused a sovereign debt crisis.”
He denounced an “authoritarian unilateralism that renders national social partners redundant.”
He explained that in many European countries, there is currently no social dialogue, and Greece is a laboratory for new neo-liberalism.
“Only on 2020 will Greece go back to the same levels as before it entered the crisis,” he warned.
Noting that the real problem in Europe is the lack of growth, Rømer condemned the introduction of the Euro, a common currency, without economic guarantee.
In Europe, unwise cuts in education and teacher education spending
A 2008 survey shows that in most European countries, education budget have been cut. Teacher education also suffered from the crisis, with less public funds dedicated to it.
Rømer explained that trade unions have to reinvest solidarity, the problem being the following: any kind of solidarity to get out of the crisis will imply sharing debts, but we cannot do this without changing the structure.
He further called for: a European financial transaction tax; a European-wide regulatory and supervisory framework; the allocation to education of unused structural funds; a fight against corruption; the prevention of the privatisation of education services; as well as a democratic debate on whether or not solidarity requires a new European treaty.
Australian good practice example: I give a Gonski campaign
“Australia is cocooned from the crisis compared to Europe,” said Angelo Gavrielatos, the President of the Australian Education Union (AEU)/Australia.
He said the government had been engaged in a serious national economic stimulus, free-building programme in primary schools.
Saying that segregation increases with privatisation, he deplored that there is an achievement gap in his country detrimental to minorities, such as Indigenous peoples.
He also mentioned the national Gonski campaign, which aims at mobilising and building coalitions in favour of quality public education.
Argentina: investment in education and social dialogue
Stella Maldonado, Secretary General of the Confederación de Trabajadores de la Educación de la Republica Argentina(CTERA)/Argentina spoke about the investment in education of her country in 2006, with the adoption of an education financing law.
Structural measures, she noted, helped exit from the crisis. This was the case with the re-foundation of the Argentinian democracy through the 2004 Law, Ley de Implementacion de Crimenes de Guerra y Lesa Humanidad, closing the impunity gap for crimes committed during the dictatorship in the seventies.
She said that in the period of restricted democracy, i.e. 1983-2003, trade unions began regaining power and collective bargaining rights.
Eastern European education systems hard hit by the crisis
Janka Takeva President of the Syndicat des enseignants bulgares(SEB)/Bulgaria underlined the need for increased funding in eastern European education systems.
The reduction or the freezing of funds for education and teachers’ wages, the lack of teacher training opportunities, inadequate working conditions and denial of teachers’ collective bargaining rights are some of the disastrous effects that austerity policies have had in too many European Union’s member states.
Eastern Europe has been hit particularly hard by these policies, especially Bulgaria, Romania and Latvia, Tankeva said.
She mentioned Bulgaria, where 27 per cent of teachers and educational staff are among the least-paid workers.
A European Commission’s analysis shows that more and more European countries have reduced or frozen teachers’ salaries during the crisis. Wages decreased in at least 16 European countries, and froze in the remaining 11 countries. Bulgaria is among the countries where primary and secondary teachers’ salaries were frozen.
She stated that it is necessary to lower the requirements in eastern European countries towards: the use of European Union’s structural funds to fight regional disparities in education; the implementation of a systematic approach to data collection at sub-regional level, facilitating trade union involvement in the decision-making process in education systems; the application of a European minimum standard for the teachers’ qualification, teacher training programmes, university preparation and payroll; and the strengthening of social dialogue at regional level.
On 19 October, debates started with a keynote address on The Future of Education and Development given by Carol Bellamy, Chair of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). It was moderated by Monique Fouilhoux, former EI Deputy General Secretary and currently Chair of the Global Campaign for Education.
Bellamy indicated that the best return on investment is investing in education, and condemned the fact that 61 million children are still out of school.
“Education is more than leading children to a learning place,” she said. “The impact of the crisis is a direct threat to education. As education unionists, talk to your Education Minster AND your Finances Minister!”
She noted that there is a creeping complacency, with a sense of job well done, with more achievements in Education for All (EFA) than in any other of the Millennium Development Goals.
Quality education for all reduces inequalities
Bellamy added: “On quality, we are not doing enough to ensure that children stay at school, tackling inequalities inside and outside the classroom. Even in school, too many children think they do not learn.”
She also condemned the lack of resources such as textbooks, desks, or adequate sanitation facilities for girls in some countries.
Bellamy emphasised the need to focus on teachers: “Too many teachers have been stretched too far, for low salaries or a pay arriving months later. Many teachers are under the poverty line.
“We need 2 million more teachers for basic education if we are to achieve EFA,” she reminded. “Too often, children are taught by teachers who do their best, but are simply unqualified.”
He noted that “at global level, we should be welcoming the UN Secretary General First initiative. It is very important for the post-2015 agenda: put every child at school; provide quality of learning; and foster global citizenship.”
Bellamy ended her speech by saying: “We can not afford trade-offs in education, or losers in education. Ignorance, inequality and poverty must be fought.”
A round table discussion on the Impact of the economic crisis on education and development was then held, moderated by former EI Vice-President Haldis Holst. Discussions followed with a question and answer session, before a panel discussion on Education in crisis: where do we go from here? and conclusions by EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen.