Latin America: Public education is a social right and is essential to building equality

published 27 July 2018 updated 6 August 2018

Public education is a social right that must be guaranteed, maintained and financed by the government, and it is essential to building equality. This is the overarching message of the educators who gathered at the Regional Meeting of Education International Latin America (EILA) in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

According to the participants, this right is currently threatened by growing trends towards privatisation and commercialisation pushed by multinational business corporations, which view education as a commodity and seek to dismantle public education systems.

They see students as consumers, not as human beings

“They view our students as consumers, not as people with rights, not as human beings... They wish to eliminate schools and teachers altogether”, stated David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International, during the meeting hosted by Bolivian Ministry of Education.

“They want to turn us teachers into robots who simply render a service and nothing more, like McDonald’s. It is a threat that we must confront head on”, he added, speaking to representatives of member organisations that make up EILA’s Regional Committee, hailing from 10 different Latin American countries. For two days, the committee discussed the following topic: ‘Trends in Education in Latin America: Privatisation and Commercialisation’.

Education unions are key to addressing these growing trends towards commercialisation, privatisation and deprofessionalisation. The “Declaration of Cochabamba”, signed by all union leaders, states that the active participation of teachers at all levels should be an integral part of shaping education policies. The union leaders called upon education authorities in the region to promote the right to public education as a strategic means of creating more just societies.

We must take solidarity to the next level

As professionals, as unions, as fighters for social justice, “we do have answers”, explained Edwards, stressing that we must “take our solidarity to the next level” by binding together “our profession, our union struggles and social justice”.

“The struggles we now face demand greater knowledge, always maintaining our principles and human rights as our core focus”, declared Fatima Silva, Vice President of EILA and General Secretary of the Confederación de Trabajadores de la Educación de Brasil(CNTE).

Hugo Yasky, President of the EILA Regional Committee, denounced the complicity of governments of certain Latin American countries in promoting the interests of business sectors, as seen in the implementation of measures aimed at undoing the progress achieved by progressive governments in the last decade, particularly in Brazil and Argentina. “Today, the status of education as a social right is being debated in Latin America, or rather, it is being brought into question, because this is what the powers-that-be behind corporate enterprises wish to achieve through the use of mass media”, Yasky stated.

Angelo Gavrielatos, Director of EI’s campaign against the privatisation of education, explained that the rhetoric discrediting public education is driven by neoliberal governments and their allies throughout the world, and that it is therefore necessary to mount a global response to these privatising trends. Gavrielatos pointed out that teachers’ and education workers’ unions represent the main obstacle to the privatisation agenda of governments and business owners.

He also noted that recent reports from the World Bank and the OECD have recognised that private education does not provide better results; if anything, it serves only to perpetuate inequality.

Society, democracy and education

Combertty Rodríguez, EILA Chief Regional Coordinator, provided an overview of the processes of privatisation, commodification and commercialisation of education in Latin America. He also emphasised the prominent role of education trade unions in opposing education reforms that are detrimental to public education.

Luis Dourado, a researcher for CNTE in Brazil, gave a presentation in which he elaborated on the current complexities of the relationship between society, democracy and education. “We must push for government policies that enable the organisation of education through collaboration, with a clearly defined political stance, in order to guarantee the right to education for everyone”, Dourado explained.

Fernando Carrión, Director of Teacher Training at the Ministry of Education in Bolivia, expounded upon the evaluation of education in his country. “We cannot talk about evaluation without first thinking about the education system we want”, Carrión stated, highlighting Bolivia’s education model and its role in building a society focused on ensuring good quality of life.

Heleno Araújo, President of CNTE, explained the current political climate in Brazil, with the unsubstantiated imprisonment of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the budget cut policies introduced by the administration of coup leader Michel Temer. Faced with such a hostile situation for social and union leaders, Araújo called for an education model “that promotes the guarantee of full access to schooling” and that would enable students to complete their education.

Sonia Alesso, General Secretary of the Confederación de Trabajadores de la Educación de la República Argentina(CTERA), gave a presentation on the current situation in Argentina, in light of the changes pushed forward by Mauricio Macri’s conservative administration. Alesso stated that in the current context of advanced neoliberalism, strong unions are essential to tackle these reforms and defend public education. “Through the Latin American Pedagogical Movement, we must defend our profession and the right to public education”, Alesso concluded.

This meeting of Education International Latin America was held from 22–23 July, just days before a conference of leaders and representatives from the Ministries of Education of various Latin America and Caribbean countries set to begin on 25 July in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Education International will have a chance to present its views at the conference, which is hosted by UNESCO.