Conceived of as an open space for dialogue within global civil society, the World Social Forum was first held in 2001 in Porto Alegre, acting as a counterbalance to the annual World Economic Forum held in Davos. Under the slogan "A different world is possible," participants in the WSF propose and discuss alternative development models to the prevailing neoliberal one. Education, as an essential prerequisite for dialogue and peace, plays a leading role within this global alternative movement. For that reason, the World Education Forum was set up in this context.
Education International is a key actor in this space for reflection and debate. In late January, EI Vice-President Juçara Dutra Vieira and EI's Chief Regional Coordinator for Latin America, Combertty Rodríguez García, attended some of the many meetings organised in Porto Alegre to mark the 10th anniversary of the WSF. As Dutra Vieira explains, two of the key demands EI raised in the Forum are increased investment in education and training up to, at least, 6% of GDP and fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals in education, including the provision of primary education for all children around the world by 2015. Public policies to provide quality education and effective measures to improve the professional status of teachers, in terms of better pay and better training, are also among the crucial objectives. Participants included teachers at all levels, students, theoreticians, researchers and representatives of unions, NGOs and governmental organisations – all of whom are engaged in a worldwide debate and constitute a huge global communication network aimed at promoting international policies to protect and develop public education as an inalienable right. Initially the unions had a “rather low profile” in the Forum, but over time they have achieved a stronger and more balanced presence in relation to NGOs, Dutra Vieira said. The unions are thus “taking on the responsibility, as collective organisations, of opening up to other social movements represented in the WSF.” Continuing the tradition of previous WSFs, more than 500 events were held in and around Porto Alegre from 25 to 29 January with the aim of expanding and strengthening participation in the Forum. There are plans to extend the geographical scope of the meetings that will be held throughout the year at various levels in countries including Spain, Japan, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Iraq, Palestine, Mexico, United States, Niger, Mali, Argentina and Bolivia. The agenda of the 10th World Social Forum will be focused on the global crisis, understood not only as an economic crisis, but also in environmental, energy, food, ideological and humanitarian terms. Unlike other countries, Brazil is experiencing a fairly rapid economic recovery. Dutra Vieira is convinced that Brazil’s success lies in social welfare policies such as building public housing to generate employment, investing in education and reducing interest rates. Furthermore – unlike other governments – the 2010 budget adopted by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva provides for an increase in expenditure on infrastructure, education and social services, including pay raises. Among the ideas put forward in Porto Alegre is the need to strengthen democratic participation in decision-making processes as well as the need to repeal legislation that favours the interests of multinational groups and financial elites. With these aims in mind, education is considered a key strategic asset to emerge from the current situation and develop a new economic production model. Throughout the 2010 Social Forum, new solutions and alternative responses will be sought to enable civil society to build a common front against a predictable exacerbation of the crisis and against further measures that negatively impact on people's living and working conditions. By Mar Candela.