Education International, the global union federation of teachers, met in Ottawa last week and agreed to take on the fight both against austerity and against related neoliberal education reform, more commonly known as the GERM (Global Education Reform Movement). In particular, the fight against the privatisation of education featured prominently in resolutions and debates, with the so-called low fee private school chains, which are spreading across the global South like a rash, coming in for particular anger. 

This emphasis was reflected outside the main conference hall, where amongst the stalls for various charities and national unions, was one run by a collection of unions across the globe - Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Chile, South Africa, UK and US. They ran a continuous anti-privatisation stall and break time workshop - each country bringing its stories of both attack and resistance to private companies wishing to profit from education. Meanwhile breakout sessions focusing on privatisation were packed, as people shared their stories.

The central resolution on the fight against neoliberal education policies was moved by a representative from the Greek union, OLME. It called on EI to 'develop global response strategies to counteract the impact of neoliberal policies on education'. It also expressed serious concerns about the degree to which institutions like the OECD, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were able to influence the education policy of governments.

An amendment which called for an end to collaboration with the World Bank was passed by the conference. As if to emphasise the pointlessness of such collaboration, many delegates were angered by a presentation from an OECD representative on the TALIS report. This is a report on 'teacher attitudes' where EI according to its website: 'has secured a full participating presence on the Board and has worked hard consistently to make sure that teachers’ concerns have been reflected in the questions.' In her summing up of the report, the OECD spokesperson said amongst other things, that class size made little difference to teachers, that poverty should not have an effect on student outcomes and that such outcomes were overwhelmingly the result of teacher 'quality.' 

Hopefully EI will now cease its co-operation with such bodies and restrict its interaction with them to the placing of firm demands for an end to the commercialisation of education, which is at the heart of the GERM. The overwhelming feeling at the conference was that it is time for teachers to say enough is enough

The promoters of corporate reform have always seen teaching unions as the major block to their plans. Above all they fear what they have described as the 'juggernaut of teachers, parents and civil society in opposition.' Many delegates emphasised the importance of uniting with parents and communities. The congress rightly highlighted the many attacks on teachers and their unions, for example in South Korea, Colombia and Turkey. However if there was one weakness in the main debates, it was, in this writer's opinion, a lack of emphasis on the many actions of teachers and their unions globally to resist such reform and advocate for alternatives. It is this gap which this website hopes to make a contribution in helping to fill.