CSFEF: Fighting threats to quality education
The Bureau of the Francophone Trade Union Committee for Education and Training (CSFEF) met in Chisinau, Moldova, from 11-13 April. The meeting was preceded by a symposium where the impact of the current economic situation on public education, in each of the countries represented, was discussed.
The symposium enabled the Bureau’s member organisations (CSQ/Canada, AEFO/Canada, SNES-FSU/France, SNUIPP-FSU/France, UNSA-Education/France, SNE-FDT/Morocco, SNEN/Niger, FENECO/Democratic Republic of Congo), SPIRU HARET/Romania and SER/Switzerland, to hold discussions with trade-union colleagues from the countries of central and eastern Europe (ECC) belonging to the francophone group - The Syndicat de l’Education et de la Science de Moldavie(Education and Science Union of Moldova) and the three other Romanian trade unions (FEN, FSLE and ALMA MATER), all affiliated to EI. Representatives from the SEB/Bulgaria were not in attendance.
A survey on school infrastructure, human resources, teachers’ working conditions, and the possible trade union responses to these issues was carried out prior to the symposium.
Neoliberal education policies
The symposium participants concluded that the status of public education in this time of crisis varied greatly according to the country concerned. The effects of the crisis were more severe in countries where the economy was already weak before the 2008 financial crisis.
In response to the current crisis, governments have chosen to apply education policies corresponding to the neoliberal ideologies dictated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
The teaching unions have observed a process of decentralisation that has spread rapidly everywhere, but particularly in the ECC region.
In Moldova, the Education Minister, a former World Bank technocrat, is fully committed to a process of decentralisation. The independence of primary schools is almost complete, to the extent that the head teacher recruits teachers, pays their salaries and decides alone whether to keep or dismiss them. The symposium participants pointed out that the head teacher has to act like a CEO. The head teachers of secondary schools are in exactly the same situation.
In Romania, public education is following the same path as Moldova, according to its education unions.
Privatisation increasingly evident
The symposium also noted that the privatisation of public education is progressing steadily.
The vocabulary associated with the law of the “market” is increasingly being used for education - competition, competitiveness, performance, and evaluations based on tests for both pupils and teachers - particularly in Canada, Switzerland, France, Romania, and Moldova.
In Africa, the development of religious schools is a major cause for concern. In the Muslim countries of West Africa (Niger, Mali, Mauritania, and Senegal to name but a few), there has been a proliferation of Koran schools, according to the participants. The rise in the number of Koran schools as a replacement for, rather than an addition to, public schools is deeply worrying, especially in terms of the dissipation of scarce resources and its effects on the quality of education provided for pupils.
Deterioration of working conditions and de-professionalisation
Participants also discussed the pay and conditions of teachers. It was felt that the low salaries associated with precarious contracts, the lack of training, the dilapidation of school premises, and overcrowding are undermining the professional work of teachers.
In this difficult context, it is difficult for teacher trade unions to make themselves heard. The participants stressed that only activism that is anchored in reality, meeting the needs and expectations of teachers, can save public education and ensure decent work for the teaching profession.
“The direct and constant privatisation of education, motivated by strong commercial interests, is gaining ground,” said Agnès Bréda, the EI representative who attended the symposium.
“The dominant idea behind the policy is that competition will drive up standards, but it is an ideological choice! In any case, the undermining of public education, which is the guarantee of equality in education for all children, has been devastating. In its battle to save public education, EI needs strong trade unions which must build a position of strength through trade union unity,” added Bréda.
She also recalled that EI is currently engaged in a global campaign, mobilising its member organisations and pressing for quality education through forceful action at the global level.
CSFEF: do not sacrifice future generations
At its Bureau meeting, the CSFEF made a commitment to take up the fight to defend quality public education, in the interests of the younger generation.
It also launched an appeal « For teachers capable of upholding to the standards of school as an institution ». This appeal may be sent to the Education Ministers of the Francophone countries during the Week of Action for Education for All, from 21-27 April.