Education was a significant talking point during the BBC World Debate broadcast last week from the OECD in Paris.
The question put by presenter Nik Gowing was whether migration should be seen not as taking scarce jobs but rather as a source of scarce skills. With migration a hot political potato in almost every OECD country, this debate was very timely.
The debate quickly turned to education. OECD General Secretary, Angel Gurrias, said migration policy could not be separated from the need to invest in language teaching and teachers. Migrants come with families who need schools, he said, and migrant youth had to be given opportunities or become part of ‘a lost generation.’
ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said migration meant more investment in education and training, not less.
Together with Gurria and Burrow, two other panel members, Manpower Corporate President, David Askell, who gave the employers’ perspective, and former Dutch Education Minister, Jo Ritzen, now President of Maastricht University, defended the view that migration was not only inevitable but also made a positive contribution to economic progress, provided, as Burrow stated, it was rights-based and, as Gurria said, it was well managed.
They insisted that education had to be part of the equation because, if not, then migration would continue to be an issue for demagogic politics.
One panel member, Jacques Myard MP of the ruling French political party UMP, disagreed. He put the emphasis on keeping out migrants, but accepted “of course” the need to invest in education, claiming “we are doing that.”
However, as Burrow said, the outcome of the recent G20 had failed to maintain the focus on jobs and by shifting to deficit reduction; it had signalled that governments would cut funding for education, training and the public sector instead of investing in the future.
From the audience, Education International’s Senior Consultant to the General Secretary Bob Harris asked how the dilemma that globalization fostered mobility of workers and families could be resolved when the global financial crisis meant funds were being cut for schools and needs at the community level. Askell replied that it was all a question of political will.
There is little doubt that it is a question of political will but this debate showed clearly that while it is possible to get an articulate consensus on the need to invest in education and training, there is a paucity of political decisions that are needed to implement the consensus.
Gurria, Burrow, Askell – from the perspectives of governments, unions and employers respectively – all said we know what needs to be done. Then why are we not doing it? That is the question!