Today, as expected, the update on progress towards the 'Millennium Development Goal' of universal primary education reveals a dismal picture of millions of children still not in school, particularly girls. The obvious reason for this is that governments in the global South are tied into a neo-liberal world order, by a lethal cocktail of blackmail and corruption, which steals their resources and lands them with ever-increasing levels of debt, through the good offices of the World Bank and its brother organisation the International Monetary Fund. As a result, education is underfunded to an extent those of us living and working in the North cannot even begin to imagine. Teachers are typically paid a couple of dollars a day and often less, class sizes are frequently over a hundred, there is commonly no electricity, no water, no learning materials. That the solution to this problem is to change the economic relations of the world and fund education properly is what US colleagues would call a 'no brainer.'

But wait - there is another solution - according to on the website of our global union federation, Education International: 'Global Business Unites for Education.' The article goes on to report uncritically a roundtable held at Facebook headquarters in London, attended by visionaries from Gucci, Intel and Hewlett Packard. Apparently, "Education International is working with the Global Business Coalition for Education to improve the quality of learning and teaching for all through aiding international technology suppliers to connect to educators in deploying modern technology."

The role of firms like Hewlett Packard and Facebook in education 'reform' in the US is common cause for protest amongst those campaigning for public education. Facebook founder Zuckerberg, to fund a performance related pay contract for New Jersey teachers as well as promoting charter schools in the area, where a determined is underway at the moment to maintain public schooling, in the teeth of a mass school closure plan.

Meanwhile the chief executive of Hewlett Packard, Meg Whitman, part funded the film 'Waiting for Superman' and with her husband is a major donor to the Summit charter school chain, keen, as she says in an to take advantage of "The ability to pick the teachers that work for the school, the ability to have longer days and summer classes." She adds approvingly, "Many of these charter schools have a pay-for-performance system." The Chairman of Intel until 2009, Craig Barrett, is now the head of  Basis Charter School Inc. Intel is the firm with which Education International is co-operating for its initiative.

Of course these corporations are not providing the dollars solely out of a misguided concern for the education of low-income children. The standardised test-driven education on offer to such children keeps them in their place by cutting off attempts by teachers to develop critical thinking and ensuring that they only 'learn' what is required to turn them into 'career-ready' workers and willing consumers. And it's a win-win situation because in the process these firms are also raking in the cash, by flooding schools with all manner of soft and hardware such as testing systems at $29.50 a pop, or in Kenya, threatening in the process to turn Kenya into a "dumping ground for electronic wastes from other nations," according to one Kenyan environmental group.

All over the world there are activists, teachers and their unions who are campaigning day and night to improve and defend public education. I have been lucky enough to meet and speak to some of them.  Privatisation and the infiltration by corporate bosses into the democratic processes are as damaging to them as they are to those of us fighting privatisation in Europe, New Zealand or the US. There has been sustained criticism of the leadership of the two great US teaching unions for their collaboration with corporations, in particular the Gates Foundation. As Dr puts it:

Collaboration requires that both parties have a “live and let live” attitude and that the neoliberal project is based on destroying the unions, especially teachers unions.  We won’t make that go away by showing that we want to work with politicians who do the bidding of powerful elites who are explicit they want to marketize education and turn teaching into contract labor. When you collaborate with people who want to destroy everything you stand for, you’re assisting in your own destruction. 

Educationists of all people should be able to unpick statements like this in HP CEO Whitman's 2012 annual letter:

The contributions we make to benefit people, communities, and the planet also create value for HP, our employees, our customers, and our shareholders.

It's not just good values, it's good business – and that means a path to sustainable growth

Our union leaderships and in particular Education International must stop falling for the rhetoric and stop working with those for whom education is a massive business opportunity. Their advocacy and campaigning should be solely at the behest of their own members and the oppressed communities which they serve.