Privatization concerns loom large at EI summit

Education commercialization and privatization were top-tier issues when delegates from 171 countries convened for Education International’s 7th World Congress, July 21-26 in Ottawa, Canada.

Randi Weingarten
Randi Weingarten

The AFT is an EI affiliate, and President Randi Weingarten led a large group of union delegates to the event. She spoke passionately from the floor in favor of a resolution calling on EI to mount a global response to the rise of a $5 trillion for-profit education industry and to call out a growing trend to outsource education-related activities and services. For the good of children and the teaching profession, Weingarten said, EI and its affiliates must respond effectively and quickly “to overcome the privateers’ head start.”

Under the resolution, EI’s executive board is charged with launching a global campaign that engages affiliates and allies around the globe. It also mandates that the executive board establish a Task Force on Privatization and Commercialization.

“This response will cover privatization in education from early childhood to university,” said EI President Susan Hopgood, the federal secretary of the Australian Education Union. She called privatization in education the greatest threat to education as a public good—a view that was supported from the Congress floor by voices of delegates from Canada, Colombia, Kenya, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, Sweden and the United Kingdom. They detailed the negative effects of privatization, including the use of unqualified teachers and a reliance on vouchers.

The resolution also won support from guest speaker Jordan Naidoo of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). The U.N. agency “is fully committed to education as a human right and the protection of that right as a public good,” he told delegates. “With the increasing trend towards privatization, and the myth that information and communications technology will solve all the challenges of education, the role of EI and UNESCO is more important.”

The six-day event also directed close attention to the activities of the world’s largest education company, London-based Pearson. At a panel discussion on responding to commercialization and privatization, Weingarten discussed how the union was taking on the testing giant on a variety of fronts. Last spring, on the day of Pearson’s stockholders’ meeting in London, the AFT worked in partnership with other unions on a series of actions, demonstrations and events that shed light on Pearson’s predatory conduct, including online spying on students and profit-driven behaviors that were destroying school quality around the globe.

These threats are still in play, and educators around the world must respond in a decisive, collective voice, Weingarten said. She noted that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is slated to host an education technology conference this October in Helsinki—an event “where privatizers like Pearson and other for-profit ed-tech companies will have direct access” to education ministers from around the world. “Everyone needs to be wary of their market-based ideology that’s about profit, not quality education, and not be seduced by their sales pitches.”

[Education International, Mike Rose]