The corporate takeover of education was moving at a frightening pace, Sharan Burrow and Angelo Gavrielatos told Federation on October 14 in a briefing on a range of issues confronting them as, respectively, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation and Education International’s Director working against the commercialisation of education.
Profiteers were saying, “there’s a big budget out there” for education in every country and they could carve a chunk out of it for themselves, said Ms Burrow, Federation Life Member and former ACTU president.
Mr Gavrielatos, former AEU federal president, said he had just been in Uganda celebrating a victory against Bridge International Academies which, as well as taking public money from Third World countries in which it operates fee-paying schools, is funded by powerful entities such as the American and British governments, the Gates Foundation, the World Bank and edubusiness giant Pearson.
Uganda in July ordered the closure of Bridge’s 62 colleges in Uganda, saying its schools failed to comply with minimum requirements prescribed by the Ministry of Education and Sport.
The move against Bridge came from Uganda’s Education Minister, who is also the President’s wife. Bridge, Mr Gavrielatos said, was now launching a High Court appeal against the Education Minister, and the President was “not too pleased” about that.
Mr Gavrielatos said the fight against privatised education in Uganda had been “incredibly successful” and was going well in Kenya too, but it had new fronts continuously opening up. He had learned a week ago that Poland had outsourced its curriculum development to a private provider.
“We’ve got a big struggle ahead of us,” Mr Gavrielatos told members, “but we know what needs to be done: organise, organise, organise!”
Ms Burrow, who is in Australia as part of a global project to film stories of “communities in transition” in energy use – Port Augusta’s plan to move to solar power is one story – said her happiness at coming home was marred by Australia’s asylum-seeker policies.
Asked what could be done to make a cohesive force of disparate groups such as Federation campaigning to extend a universal welcome to refugees, Ms Burrow said, “It’s about communities saying, ‘We’ll build the base that will eventually cause politicians to say, ‘If we want to get elected we’ll have to get behind this’.” She said schools were a natural base for forming thinking around humanist beliefs and a commitment to peace.
“We very concerned about the ease with which democracy can be broken down,” Ms Burrow said, and added a swipe against hypocritical world powers that called for peace in conflicts yet had huge factories that sold arms to warring parties.
Federation President Maurie Mulheron thanked Ms Burrow, a former senior vice president of the NSW Teachers Federation, and Mr Gavrielatos, former NSW Teachers Federation deputy president, for their addresses, saying it was well to remember the saying that all wars are fought against children.