Children out of education around the world is seen by some as a marketing opportunity
Report from the International Solidarity Officers' Conference (IS0), London, 29th February 2020
The aim of the conference was to create a network for international solidarity officers, activists and district/branch officers who are engaged in international solidarity work to come together, network and learn more about how to promote international solidarity at school, district/branch level and in their local communities. An additional purpose was to collectivise knowledge and skills and to equip the NEU with the confidence, knowledge and strategies to challenge power structures.
Gawain Little of the NEU opened the conference by paying tribute to the 20,000 people who took to the streets in February to protest about the lack of action on climate change. This common cause was at the core of our work and affected everybody on this planet. He expressed pride that the NEU played a leading role in education internationally, educating students in their communities. He expressed concern at the reduction of education to a commodity and suggested that this was the largest threat to education globally, which was why conferences such as the ISO conference were so important. The conference was an opportunity to strengthen the NEU's resolve to challenge this together with other colleagues across the world.
Gawain then thanked Samidha Garg, who retires after 25 years of service to NUT/NEU, for her tireless commitment to international solidarity. She was presented with flowers from himself and former General Secretary Christine Blower, and gave a farewell and acceptance speech.
Dan Carden MP, Acting Shadow Secretary of State for International Development since 2018, spoke next. He expressed concern at the re-election of the Conservative government. He was deeply disappointed that a Labour government was not in a position to transform this country in the way that he had hoped. He stood in solidarity with teachers and said that conferences like this were really important because they demonstrated that the struggle and the fight for international solidarity continued. He comes from Liverpool, a city shaped by a generation of immigrants. Standing shoulder to shoulder didn't stop at borders. Solidarity shown by NEU was important to education across the world. The scale of the global education challenge was enormous. World leaders signed up to some sustainable development goals in 2015, promising to
by 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.
In the 2020s we would see if world leaders were going to keep to their promises. The World Bank declared in their World Development Report that there was an international global crisis.
• 260,000,000 children are not involved in primary or secondary school education.
• 56% of children will not learn to read well or do basic maths by the end of primary school.
• 90% of children in low income countries will fail to learn basic literacy or numeracy skills.
• The pressure is growing on already fragile education systems. In sub-Saharan Africa alone there will be 250,000,000 more school aged children by 2050.
• We know this crisis is especially critical for girls and the charity Plan International have warned that at the current rate world leaders are on course to miss girls' education targets by 150 years. By 2030 that means one in five girls in crisis-affected countries won't be able to read a single sentence.
A pledge in the Conservative manifesto was to
stand up for the right of every girl in the world to have 12 years of quality education. We needed to hold them to account. Whilst the Conservatives say one thing on international development, quite often they are doing another.
Dan Carden was concerned at how the Conservative government was actively trying to redefine what universal public education meant. The evidence that privatisation in education did not work was compelling. In the same way the government pushed academies and free schools in the UK, they were doing the same overseas. Several hundred million pounds of our tax-payers money was being spent on education privatisation projects overseas. If they wanted to keep their promise that every girl should receive 12 years of quality education, they were going the wrong way about it. It was an outrage that trade unions did not receive the recognition that they deserved and it was a disappointment that they no longer received the financial support once offered from government to work with unions internationally.
Trade unions should be an essential part of building strong public services anywhere and everywhere. Our education systems were stronger, fairer and more sustainable when we build them together with trade unions.
Mary Bousted of the NEU said that around the world there were far too many children, particularly girls, who were not accessing education. Millions were not in schools and were not learning. This absolutely impacted on their life chances. Often, it was the most vulnerable children. The NEU played an important part in international solidarity from Palestine to Nicaragua, Chicago to Bangladesh. We were connected with teachers around the globe in the fight to inclusive and just education.
There followed workshops including Education for All, Send My Friend to School, Christian Aid, and the Steve Sinnott Foundation.
The Global Campaign for Education is made up of a number of organisations that campaign for global causes — the NEU, OXFAM, Save The Children, disability charities and smaller NGOs. It campaigns for rights to education for all young people around the world, and runs a different campaign each year. It aims to influence government policies and to get young people involved in campaigning.
The afternoon session featured an 'In Conversation' between panellists Gawain Little (NEU) Njoki Njehu (Fight Inequality Alliance) Alasdair Smith (Anti-Academies Alliance) and Debby Pope (Chicago Teachers' Union).
They discussed the implications of privatisation globally for quality, equality, and democratic accountability. Resisting this agenda and the role our government played in privatisation was absolutely crucial for the work they were doing internationally. These were crucial times. There were 262 million children out of education globally but this was seen by many private education providers as a market opportunity. The reality was how many people were missing out on education as a result. The global education market was estimated to be worth 5 trillion dollars, most of which was currently in public hands.
A strong message from the panellists was that we have a lot of non-active teachers, and one of the keys was to go out and talk to and hear what members have to say within your schools. Win some small victories almost on anything, whether it's preparation or positions in the building. Build up people's confidence. We have to show people we can make a difference in this fight.
6 for 7 — Six members spoke passionately and thought-provokingly for seven minutes on their experiences of activism and international solidarity with the NEU. Phillipa Harvey spoke on activism on international solidarity in the union.
Asad Rehman of War on Want gave the closing address, a powerful speech.
There were more workshops on International Human Rights, Trade Union issues and Solidarity. I attended the Cuba workshop and found a personal account by a member of the delegation very powerful. She said that whilst there was blockade, the Cubans did their utmost to provide their children with good quality varied education.