Representatives of teachers from the UK and US, as well as parents and global justice NGOs, protested outside the annual shareholders meeting of the giant education corporation, Pearson, in London UK today. Teachersolidarity spoke to David Wilson of the UK National Union of Teachers, one of the organisers of the protest.

TS: What was today’s action about?

DW: Pearson is a major player in global education reform movement (GERM) – and we think their actions, operations and neo-liberal outlook are detrimental to children and teachers in the Global North and South.

Pearson operates in over 70 countries, and as a recent book by Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell has shown, they have significant lobbying influence at an international and national level – direct lobbying and also through the funding and support of free-market think tanks and pressure groups such as Policy Exchange. This lobbying pressure has distorted education policy around the world and has allowed companies like Pearson to get their hands on the $4 trillion spent on education world-wide.

In the Global South, Pearson is part of a global effort by ‘edu-business’ to profit from so-called ‘low-fee’ private schools, exploiting the legitimate desire of some of the world’s poorest families to gain access to education.

In England, Pearson runs a for-profit exam board and administers and marks SATs tests taken by all children at the end of primary school. Our children and young people are among the most tested in the world and a growing body of evidence confirms they feel more pressured than those in other countries.

In the United States, Pearson’s systematic monitoring of the social media accounts of parents, teachers and even students to ensure ‘test security’ was recently exposed. And the effect of high stakes testing in the US is well known.

So today, the NUT and sister unions joined parents from the UK and US, as well as global justice campaigners today to tell Pearson three things: first, they should stop spying on children; second, they should stop undermining public education in the global south through the promotion of for profit schools; third, they should stop promoting high stakes testing.

TS: So who took part in today's protest?

DW: Today’s action was supported by: the National Union of Teachers; the American Federation of Teachers; the National Education Association; the South African Democratic Teachers Union; the UK Association of Teachers and Lecturers; Global Justice Now and Action Aid UK.

We also had the support of many other unions and NGOs from across the globe through a social media campaign. However, the most important people to take part were the parents - their voices really rang loudest when talking about the negative impact of ‘edu-business’.

The US media has been awash with stories of Pearson ‘spying’ on kids' social media in New Jersey, so it was great for Pearson to hear directly from a parent affected by this. The UK parents also spoke eloquently about the damage high stakes testing has upon children, local schools and communities.

Global Justice Now used today to launch a report showing the way in which DFID, using aid money, opens up markets for companies like Pearson in the Global South. The undermining of public education in the Global South, the notion of a ‘school in a box’, and the idea of charging a daily rate to attend school is fundamentally wrong. Today was about standing in solidarity with all those in the Global South resisting this neo-liberal vision of education.

TS: Where does the campaign go from here? 

DW: Today represented the deepening of an international co-ordinated effort to resist the global education reform movement and its promoters and promulgators like Pearson. It’s clear that many people – teachers, parents, students, academics, social justice campaigners – have an interest in getting involved in such a campaign.

If we are to be successful in resisting the GERM and edu-business, any movement has to be built from the ground up. Alliances between teachers and parents are crucial. So is international solidarity between North and South.

Education is a fundamental human right, not something to be bought and sold. Education should be about a broad and balanced curriculum not standardised testing and narrow learning objectives. It should be about developing a fairer and better world, not about conditioning children for a neo-liberal world. We need to fight for these ideas.

TS: Thanks, David and Teachersolidarity certainly looks forward to being an active participant in what looks like a great and really important campaign.