Education International tells us that this is our moment to celebrate, because education, both primary and secondary is included in the newly minted United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. In her speech in New York to the UN Global Education First Intitiative (GEFI), EI president Susan Hopgood, rightly emphasised the importance of teachers, that privatisation is not the answer and that the goal cannot be reached unless issues of poverty, war and environmental degradation are also tackled.

But as an excellent article by Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now puts it: 'Unless you understand that the poverty of some flows from the wealth and power of others, efforts to fight poverty will never truly work.' And the very representatives and wielders of that wealth and power  – the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, global corporations like Pearson and Google and neoliberal political leaders are all enthusiastic supporters of the SDGs, including that for education. The GEFI event at which Susan Hopgood spoke was also addressed by heads of state, present and past – Gordon Brown of the UK and Park Geun-hye of South Korea for example - who in office pursue the very policies which enable the rich and powerful to continue ramping up their wealth at the expense of the poor.

An interesting case study of this kind of hypocrisy is demonstrated in the Punjab region of Pakistan. There the UK Department for International Development (DfID) funded Sir Michael Barber, chief education adviser for Pearson to 'reform' their education system. His reforms include increased privatisation, school vouchers, performance related pay, standardised testing and curricula. All of this was done in the name of 'transforming opportunity for 20 million children.'

And yet according to a seminar recently co-hosted by the Alif Ailaan education NGO in Lahore, teachers are typically spending 19% of their time absent from the classroom as they participate in enrollment campaigns in order to meet the targets mandated by Barber's reform scheme, while a staggering 70% of teaching posts in Punjab region are unfilled, and at least a third of schools lack any form of sanitation. So except in the eyes of a leading corporate 'reformer' like Sir Michael Barber, teaching and learning in Punjab continues to be well nigh impossible. Meanwhile Pearson has got a foothold in the region to sell its wares, and potentially to invest in the 'low fee' private schools which are a burgeoning sector in the state.

Unless Education International bites the bullet and names the real cause of poverty, the unjust economic and social relations in which we all live, then it risks enhancing the cover for advocates of precisely those relations. Worse, by encouraging the millions of people, including school children who hate injustice, to imagine that the way to solve the problem is to advocate to these same representatives of the system, they are leading them down a blind alley. Only the combined strength of teachers, students and communities working together to recognise, forge alternatives to and eventually put an end to this system can there be a hope of achieving the target of education for all. EI's campaign against privatisation, and in particular Pearson is a start. But if it is to succeed it has to set everyone's sights on the whole rotten system.