Here’s a tip for journalists looking for great stories that resonate with audiences from the local to the global level — go to school — there’s no better source of stories on our modern political and social life than teachers, education support professional and their unions across the world.
More and more every week, educators are the face of the resistance to governments failing miserably in their basic responsibilities — to meet their funding commitments to education, to provide infrastructure, to promote equity and equal rights, to invest in their own people. And collect taxes — a UN-appointed commission said developing countries lose up to $800 billion every year in corporate tax avoidance.
For many of these governments, failure is a deliberate choice — public money benefitting the privileged at the expense of working people and the poor, including privatisation schemes for education and other sectors.
While teaching and learning continue to take place in unsafe and unhealthy environments, without oversight, and often with overcrowded classrooms, scarce materials and poor sanitary facilities, the public has joined with its educators to fight back.
In Finland, parents marched on the capital to demand better salaries for early education teachers. Australian teachers and civil society activists are asking federal politicians to reverse some $2 billion in cuts to public schools over the past two years. In the United States, educators with the support of their communities marched and lobbied for education funding in so-called “red” states that had severely cut public education monies for years.
In the UK, university and college staff and lecturers were joined by students on the picket lines and at rallies across 61 universities. The actions in protest of nationwide pension cuts were the largest in recent history. In Burkina Faso educators settled with the government after more than a year, winning improved working conditions and an extension of free education for all students to the post-primary level.
The connection between the success of nations and the health of their education systems is well documented. The vast majority of schools are in public systems and they make an essential contribution to the life of their communities.
In 2015, after a two-year global campaign involving hundreds of thousands of EI affiliate educators, the United Nations established global goals, setting measurable targets for progress on quality education for all, health, hunger, poverty, gender equity to name a few — the SDGs.
Education was seen as a critical priority in country after country. The UN polled some seven million people in 88 countries, including door-to-door surveys, ballots and SMS. The respondents overwhelmingly chose ‘a good education’ and ‘better healthcare’ as top priorities, with education as the number one priority regardless of gender, age, wealth or education.
It makes sense. Educated men and women and girls and boys are in a better position to have a voice in their future, a choice of paths and possibilities. Educated peoples are more likely to choose investment in themselves, their communities and their families and future and less apt to be swayed by demagogues.
In our own time of racial and ethnic demagogues, privatisers and other one-percenters are calling the tune in too many nations. In country after country, the fight back is well underway. Educators and the communities and the families they serve are increasingly leading the way to restoring the notion and the reality of a public space, the common good and human rights.
There are great stories waiting to be told.