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Crozet – Pouteau / ILO
Crozet – Pouteau / ILO

Social justice without quality public education and teachers?

published 20 June 2023 updated 27 February 2024
written by:

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) held its 111th annual conference in Geneva (Switzerland) from 5 to 16 June. The ILO is the only tripartite body of the United Nations system that brings together representatives of the labour sector, governments and employers to address a range of issues pertaining to the world of work and related topics.

I was part of the delegation representing workers from Uruguay at this Conference, nominated by our central union, PIT-CNT, without leaving aside my status as an education worker and President of FENAPES, a trade union affiliated to Education International (EI). I was honoured to address the Plenary on behalf of Education International and present a set of reflections on the Report of the ILO Director General.

The report submitted to the Conference by the Director General is entitled "Promoting social justice". The report identifies the main elements of a world in crisis: the increase in economic inequality; the widening gap between the poorest and the richest segments; the economic and social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic; and the increase in unemployment and informal work.

In this context, it seems important to me to express some personal reflexions that I believe are necessary and opportune for us as education workers to take note of, especially considering the role education should play in the construction of social justice, a task which we are called to by the ILO Director General. In particular, I would like to raise some concerns regarding what was said and also what was left unsaid, both significant as they pertain to education.

"As workers in the sector, we must be fully aware that our profession is under pressure from economic and political power groups, and is subjected to flexibilisation, deregulation, deprofessionalisation and substitution".

First of all, although our participation is stated to be "crucial for the development of effective and equitable systems of education and lifelong learning", this participation would take place within a framework where the meaning of education is defined by a fundamentalist neo-liberal understanding, predominant in much of the world, in which education is viewed from an economic perspective and assigned an instrumental function. A political and ideological definition if ever there was one.

Secondly, as I stated in the address to the plenary session on behalf of EI, "it is striking that the word teacher is hardly mentioned in the 31 pages of the Director General's report”, even though we know full well that "without teachers there is no education, let alone quality education”. This situation means that, as workers in the sector, we must be fully aware that our profession is under pressure from economic and political power groups, and is subjected to flexibilisation, deregulation, deprofessionalisation and substitution.

Thirdly, the absence of any mention of the growing privatisation and commercialisation in and of education, which are very present in Latin America, as well as the constant cuts in education budgets in many of our countries, is worrying. In both cases, the human right to education, which should be guaranteed by the state through the development and management of strong public education systems, is undermined.

Fourthly, while we continue to stress the importance of social dialogue and are fully committed to achieving social justice, education workers have serious doubts about working alongside international organisations such as the World Bank (WB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). These organisations have growing and decisive influence over public education policy in many of our countries. They are also responsible for promoting the budget cuts, the privatisation and commercialisation in and of education that we denounce.

None of these considerations can lead us to doubt the importance of our participation in global bodies, particularly the ILO, or in the recently created High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession, announced at the United Nations Transforming Education Summit in 2022. Quite the contrary.

Firstly, it is imperative to take note of some of the ideological disputes present in the current global context, which are expressed and developed in the political arena. We must ensure that our participation is not distorted and does not end up serving other purposes and interests.

Secondly, our solidarity is our strength. We are part of Education International, an organisation whose political and organisational development, policies and demands, as well as capacity for mobilisation and dialogue have made it a strong and respected global political and trade union actor.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.