Challenging Hostile Ideologies in the Crisis

written by: Fred van Leeuwen published 2012-09-24 updated 2012-11-09

The economic crisis is being used to justify the complete deregulation and privatisation of public services in order to ‘reduce costs’. Widespread cuts in expenditure on public education are damaging both quality and equality of access to education, as well as undermining the status of teachers and teaching.

In reality, these actions are motivated primarily by free market ideologies. In many countries, free market thinking is being widely applied to all aspects of educational policy, from school leadership to curriculum redesign.

At a time when society needs genuine regeneration, facilitated and encouraged through high quality public education, many of the so-called ‘reforms’ in education seek to portray teachers as simple transmitters of skills, and schools as institutions established to produce made-to-order students for the job market. In this context, families become education consumers, neatly fitting into market segments divided by their socio-economic level.

The original ideal of the public school system – as a social leveller promoting equal opportunities- is being rapidly eroded, for instance, in countries such as the UK and Spain. Are there alternatives? The examples of Brazil and Argentina show more appropriate ways of providing education are not only possible, but practical and desirable. Brazil is successfully providing opportunities for public participation in education policy development, while Argentina has restored the State’s central role as guardian of public education.

Faced with anti-union government legislators focused more on markets than jobs, education unions have been taking strong, coordinated action at local, state and national level to promote and defend public education. They have registered successes through harnessing public support, like in Ohio, USA. Here, a law undermining collective bargaining rights was defeated through dynamic campaigning. In parallel, trade unionists have supported global social movements such as the Indignados in Spain, and Occupy Wall Street in the USA.

At the international level, EI has been promoting alternative and more humane strategies for achieving economic recovery, especially through research and advocacy to counter damaging economic policies adopted by governments, often at the behest of the international financial institutions.

EI has also joined forces with the other labour sectors through the Council of Global Unions. This collaboration provides a common front to lobby G8 and G20 governments to initiate a major recovery plan investing in skills, infrastructure and green jobs, with education at its core. The Global Unions’ alternative plan for jobs and recovery would not only stem the crisis, but shape a post-crisis world that is economically,