Hundreds of teachers and union delegates from 19 countries gathered in Santiago de Chile to discuss the most poignant issues surrounding education in the Latin American region and to develop a policy strategy for the coming four years.
"Chile's main challenge is to create a more equitable society and our government is determined to meet that challenge", said Michelle Bachelet,President of Chile, addressing the 10th Regional Conference of Education International (EI)'s Latin American region on 6 May. Ms. Bachelet underlined that the Chilean public school system and the nation's teachers will play a crucial role in the country's transformation.
In his opening remarks, Hugo Yasky, President of EI's Latin American Region, said that Chili had been selected as the venue for the quadrennial conference because "the country is setting an example by abandoning neo-liberal education and teacher policy". He praised the Chilean unions for strengthening the "Movimiento Pedagógico" and for mobilizing resistance against privatisation and for-profit schooling that has weakened the country's public school system for many years, causing grave inequity in Chilean society.
ITUC President Joao Felicio, who spoke at the opening, called upon education unions to work for social change together with the entire labour movement.
The conference, bringing together some 200 leaders of education unions from all over Latin America, thoroughly discussed the commercialisation of education services in many countries. Delegates expressed support for EI's initiative to challenge governments that create opportunities for education corporations to invade the education sector, and to confront those corporations when they create inequity or restrict teachers' professional freedoms. "Market principles are not applicable to the education of our children", said one of the participants, who described for-profit education as "immoral". The conference also adopted a statement condemning theinclusion of education inthe Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA), re-asserting that education is a right and not a commodity.
Education International General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen welcomed organisations from Honduras, Colombia, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Mexico, all of which joined EI since the Latin American group last met in Buenos Aires in 2011. Van Leeuwen extended a special welcome to the Mexican teachers organization SNTE "who have returned in our midst after a couple of difficult years. We are delighted to have you back."
Van Leeuwen also addressed the safety of students and teachers. "Who could have thought when we last met four years ago that schools would become a target of organised violence?” he asked. “Teachers and students lost their lives in attacks on schools and universities, or they became victims of heinous crimes, such as the 43 students allegedly killed in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, last September. We have shivered, we have protested, and we have sometimes been appalled by the weak and ineffective responses of our public authorities".
In other official business, a regional committee was elected by the conference to lead EI's activities in Latin America for the coming four years. The conference also paid tribute to Stella Maldonado, the late General Secretary of CTERA, Argentina, and member of the EI Executive Board who sadly passed away in 2014.