“Our collective efforts show considerable progress on advocacy, capacity building, research, communications, and solidarity…as there is not yet a ‘standardised test’for international organisations, you will have to grade us based on common sense.”
Education International (EI) General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen’s opening comments to some 2,000 delegates at EI’s 7th World Congress capture the combination of fact, wit and passion that marked his presentation of the quadrennial Progress Report. Highlights of the remarks on YouTube are at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2siQZVoR9r0 with running times noted in bold.
Van Leeuwen made clear that progress on matters such as EI membership growth, the overwhelming response to EI’s Unite for Quality Education campaign and the pending approval of education as a standalone post-2015 Strategic Development Goal need to be viewed in perspective with persistent challenges including millions still out of school and the growth of both conservative policy applications and worldwide inequity and poverty.
On that last point, van Leeuwen said(9:55) we are told over and over again, that the “miracle” solution is to come from the private sector. Well that is definitely not the case when it comes to paying their taxes. In the autumn of 2011, we completed a study on corporate taxation in the real economy showing how global corporations avoid and evade paying taxes through various internal and external practices. Huge sums are lost to the public coffers; at least 100s of billions of dollars. At the G20 summit in 2012 in Mexico I confronted Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, with these staggering figures and suggested that IMF should start helping governments close these fiscal loopholes and collect hidden revenues rather than pressing them to slash education budgets. She promised to look into it. Well, they have not yet called back. (They must have been) too busy bullying Greece.
Van Leeuwen chided “politicians of nearly all political persuasions,” for their continuing failure to deal with economic crises and tax avoidance brought on by global commercial interests: “As much as it is difficult for a professional educator to admit, there may, in fact, be some people who are simply uneducable.”
But, he said(14:43), we are not against the market. We do not oppose businesses that build schools or produce learning materials either. They have done this since the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century. Where we draw the line is where corporations run our schools like businesses on a for- profit basis and increase social inequity, where they set up supply chains, or where they invade teachers’ professional space and dictate what and how to teach.
In a sobering review of violence against students and teachers, van Leeuwen asked, “who could have thought when we last met in Cape Town four years ago that girls education would become the target of religious extremism.” He noted the brutal toll in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including the massacre in Peshawar, where 141 persons were killed, including teachers trying to save their students; in Nigeria, where hundreds of teachers were killed and more than 200 girls were kidnapped; and in Turkey, where 32 students were murdered on their way to build libraries for Syrian refugees.
(40:16) Colleagues, we shiver, we protest, and we are appalled by the weak and ineffective responses of our public authorities. This in stark contrast to the incredible courage displayed by teachers who tried to protect their students and stop heavily armed men invading their classrooms. They stood up for the rights of their students. They refused to stop teaching and close their schools. But they paid the highest price a person can pay. Let their souls be blessed.
While van Leeuwen noted with detailed statistics how the growing ranks of EI affiliate members have helped shape and magnify the quality education, human and trade union rights and collaborative advocacy work of EI, he was blunt in his appeal to delegates and leaders to step up in the coming months and years.
(44:01) Colleagues when you do not take our 393 member unions as a measuring stick for membership participation, but your 32 million members, the figures are not very impressive. Too many classroom teachers and education support personnel arestill not familiar with the impact of global education reform on their daily work and the important contributions they could make to our advocacy and to our online discussions and campaigns. Yes, we are an organization of organizations with a strong belief in democratic representation, and no, we will never give up on that. But we are more than a league of education union leaders. Successful international advocacy also and increasingly depends on the ability to build and mobilise audiences on line.
I am asking you – and not for the first time - to give more exposure to Education International - in your publications, on your websites, at your conferences. Help us reach your members. Help us organise, help us ‘grow digitally’.