Suddenly the majority of countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development are talking about growth. The words on the lips of everybody who attended the OECD’s Forum last week went further. ‘Inclusive growth’ are the watchwords. The OECD’s homepage makes it clear that the financial crisis is hitting the poorest the hardest and that social inclusion must be the objective of countries’ growth policies.
This stark, and I have to say welcome, assessment of the threat facing societies, either represents a conversion of the OECD to full blown Keynesian economics or a sign of how deep and dire the financial crisis is. It’s probably a bit of both.
What does this conversion mean for education as a public service? In my view it means an enormous opportunity. Education has started to be cut back at an unprecedented pace in some countries. You only have to ask the teachers in Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland for example to know that is the case. And it’s not just in the so called ‘PIGS’ countries; (an utterly insulting description invented by those who wish to lay the blame on particular societies rather than bankers). Many countries, such as England, are hacking back vital services such as the services which support children with special needs.
Why is it an opportunity? The leading growth advocates such as the Obama Administration and newly elected President Hollande are putting extra national funding into education-in the US through five billion dollars into enhancing support for the teaching profession and in France through a Presidential commitment to employ thousands of extra teachers.
Combine this with the call for inclusive growth by the OECD and what you have is a fairly unassailable boost for arguments to protect schools and college communities. It is in schools where children and young people learn, feel safe and gain optimism for the future. It is schools which are at the heart of their communities. It is schools which are central to empowering young people to both tackle the fearsome challenges of the wider world. It is schools which give hope to young people from socially deprived backgrounds.
The OECD is by no means perfect and its hawkish economics department has in the past led the cry for austerity-often putting itself at odds with its Education Directorate. Nevertheless you never know from where your support might appear. Sometimes it appears from the most unlikely of places but when it appears it is worth grabbing with both hands.
Education International is in a powerful position to support teacher unions in their campaigns to promote and protect education. It is through its knowledge of developments on the global stage such as those at the OECD that it can support teachers and their Unions during this toughest of times.