There is an old French adage that says “les absents ont toujours tort,” which means that those who are absent are always in the wrong (or always get the blame). But what if they were right after all under certain circumstances? This seems to be the case in the field of education. Among a plethora of ongoing reforms and cresting waves of privatization, the teaching as well as administrative and supporting personnel seem to be removed from the decision-making and consultation process.
Certain major problems could have been easily avoided had that not been the case. Education International and its affiliates have constantly called for massive investments in education in order to make education a priority and in order to achieve the millennium development goals.
In Quebec (Canada), new sex education and personal financing courses, and even legislation that enables parents to carry out construction work in schools have been introduced without any consultation – a slap in the face of the teaching personnel who are denied the chance to contribute their expertise.
What about the injection of $5 million by the Quebec government to hire three celebrities as consultants on the “school of the future?”. After cutting the education budget by more than a billion dollars in the last five years, it is outrageous to ask a chef, an architect and a cyclist to advise the government on what is lacking in schools, and without including the personnel in that discussion.
This trend is perceptible in nearly all countries and territories and, unfortunately, increasingly so. The voice of those who are at the heart of the education and teaching day in and day out, is far too often disregarded or relegated to a compulsory obligation thanks to the requirement that trade unions have managed to enshrine in collective agreements, but one that may not be fully valued by management.
When the pressure is too high, certain senior executives can go as far as the Supreme Court to ensure that legislation or case law are brought to bear in order to gag the trade unions. The outcome of the Janus case in the United States recently is a sterling example.
The Janus case is not an accident. It was paid for by powerful financial interests which are aware that when workers have the freedom to speak with a single voice through their trade unions, progress is made for the benefit of all. The general secretary of Education International, David Edwards, has spoken out vigorously against these attacks on the trade union movement: “We will stand with our trade union brothers and sisters in the United states who are up against corporate interests that want to silence them. We know that you remain strong and will continue to get your collective voice heard,” he stated.
“The Janus case is not only an issue concerning the United States. Trade unions throughout the world are using their collective voice to call for policies that benefit all workers. This includes education professionals who are waging a collective struggle for quality public education open to all,” he added.
“This is more than just a court case. It involves CEOs and billionaires who have spent their money and exerted their influence to try to destroy the collective power of trade unions. They want to lower wages, ignore public education and silence democratic voices. They will always find us in their way.”
Nevertheless, the voice of education personnel, through their trade unions and Education International, remains the one that should be given an indispensable, irreplaceable status before each reform.
To that end, education should become a real priority for decision-makers, who evidently pay too little attention to it, sensing the opportunity to shy away from their state responsibility in that respect. The Pearson case is particularly flagrant, denounced by EI and others by means of a letter writing campaign to major financial backers of these institutions, in particular, the World Bank.
As a result, entire generations will be sacrificed on the altar of supply and demand and will lack vital ingredients for success in education. By entrusting the heavy responsibility of education to sorcerer’s apprentices, these governments cannot argue that they are advancing the interests of their people. On the contrary, they are preparing them for a future marked by inequalities and poverty.
The result is a set of decisions and directions that deprive thousands of young and older people from access to quality education systems that the education personnel try to maintain by working hard and by paying a high price: occupational diseases, exhaustion, disillusionment, etc.
It is high time for governments to recognize the expertise of education personnel and to listen to the voices of the organizations that represent them, so that those who make the difference for so many young and older people day in and day out are consulted and take part in the decision-making process.
To that end, we have to be equipped, engage in discussions, and adopt a more strategic approach than those who are turning education with impunity into a commodity rather than a common resource.
Education International, in partnership with the OECD, organizes the International Summit on the Teaching Profession. It has obtained a seat in the Global Partnership for Education. It has set up several working groups, including for education support staff, child care personnel as well as higher education workers. EI is also defending the rights of women and LGBTQ2+ persons, and advocating safe educational environments free of violence.
Campaigns such as “Unite for Quality Education” also help get the voice of education personnel heard – which is the leitmotif of Education International.
Education International is a goldmine of expertise fed by its researchers, partnerships and affiliates throughout the world. Whether on the local, national or international level, the voice of education personnel must be heard and considered, and its solutions heeded and valued.
If that voice is not heard, governments should consider that the ones who are right are perhaps precisely those who are absent.
On 26 January 1993, Education International was founded through the merger of the International Federation of Free Teachers’ Unions (IFFTU) and the World Organisation of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP). On the occasion of the 25th anniversary, a special series of blogs #EI25, will be published throughout the year, bringing together voices and thoughts of unionists, education activists, partner organisations and friends, reflecting on past struggles and accomplishments, from which the organisation has drawn strength and inspiration to address current and future challenges facing education and the teaching profession. If you want to contribute to the series, please write to [email protected].
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.