The suits at the World Bank love to talk about the importance of the 'girl child.' As they put it, 'Of all the goals, educating children—particularly girls—has the greatest impact on eliminating poverty.' And this is of course the frequently reiterated mantra of education 'reformers' from Bill Gates to (Sir) Michael Barber.

Interesting then that according to Education International 'A majority of EI's members currently live below the poverty line.' Something doesn't add up here. Teachers are by definition educated – at very least, they will have completed some secondary education and many have teacher training or degrees. Moreover a large proportion of teachers are women. So how come these educated women are still poor?

The answer is simple. The implication that, by giving girls an elementary education, you are well on the way to eliminating poverty is at best a naive misunderstanding and at worst a lie. Of course a few children will escape poverty, and being able to read and write will help them on their way. And of course one of the jobs of teachers is to teach such basic skills. But education alone cannot substitute for changing the economic and social relations, which have led to the immiseration of so many millions of people. Oxfam recently calculated that the annual income of the world's richest 100 people could solve world poverty four times over. It sounds simple but of course it will never happen, as long as the system in which we are living is one where each capitalist is competing to accumulate more capital than the next one.

The United Nations has set up a Global Education First Initiative in a putative effort to reach the goal of universal primary education by 2015. A major partner organisation is the Global Business Coalition for Education. It includes a roll call of global corporations – Pearson 'always earning', or Nokia – fighting tax avoidance claims in India. On the list also is US Common Core promoter, Exxon Mobil, which has reportedly polluted vast swathes of the Niger delta and is making megabucks out of extracting oil in the country with the greatest number of out of school children in the world. The truth is that in their race to accumulate more and more of the world's riches, the only interest of these corporations in education is to have a minimally literate and unquestioning workforce, and of course to try to make themselves look like the good guys while they are at it.

Images of smiling girls sitting at desks in their school uniforms must not be allowed to hide the truth that their usually female teacher is a living rebuttal of the idea that education will eliminate poverty. And in so far as they earn at all many of those same smiling girls will soon be sitting in sweatshops, manufacturing goods for corporations. It is time for the leaders of teaching unions, and in particular Education International, to stop giving credence to the myth that education can eliminate poverty, which is used both to let corporations off the hook and to hoist teachers onto it – making them responsible for ending the misery caused by the frenzied accumulation of profit in fewer and fewer suit pockets.