Education International
Education International

Quality and dialogue key to public education

published 1 February 2013 updated 26 April 2013

Participants debated the idea of education as a public good and the nature of the relationships between EI and the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on 30 January.

On the second day of the 2013 EI/OECD Conference, Professor Fernando Reimers, Director of the International Education Policy programme at Harvard Graduate School of Education, presented on the conference’s theme, “Framing Education as a Public Good”.

“EI has demonstrated that ideas matter and are best developed through dialogue,” he said. “There is a real value in having global coalitions to advance public education.”

The three most important concepts from such coalitions are that:

  • Professional and union interests are intertwined
  • Collaboration with governments is productive
  • Advancing public education is aligned with democracy, environment, rights and social justice

Historical perspective Reimers explained that the idea that we should educate all people for peace comes from educator Comenius (1592–1670). Conversations about curriculum and pedagogy have been ongoing, and educational reformer Pestalozzi devised the concept that teaching should be matched to learners’ needs.

Later, public education innovator Lancaster’s vision in the 19th Century was to teach a few things to as many people as possible, i.e. the basis of modern mass education.

Reimers also highlighted the moral vision of inclusion. “Ideas travelled across the world. Many who advocated for peace turned to education. Education for women and the poor became a focus. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights became a major milestone in the coming of universal education. This all happened in the last 400 years.

Public support for education “But there were times when the idea that everyone should be educated and it should be paid for publically has been challenged,” he said. “Public education is a historical project, simultaneously pedagogical and political, and it is not over.”

He further mentioned seven challenges to public education:

  • Ideology
  • Economic adjustment and inequality
  • Rise in democratic expectations
  • Expanding expectations and aspirations
  • Transformation of work
  • Innovation
  • Demography

All these challenges, Reimers said, address funding, governance and accountability. “We need substantial conversation in the profession on curriculum, pedagogy, learning and teaching! It is up to teacher unions to bring this debate to the international stage.”

Two panel discussions then took place in the plenary room:

  • “Trade Unions at a time of Financial Crisis and Privatisation – Case Studies: Britain and Ireland”, chaired by Patrick Roach, NASUWT/UK. Panellists included: Roland Schneider, Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD; Christine Blower, NUT/UK; and Noel Ward, INTO/Ireland.
  • “Framing Education as a Public Good”, chaired by Randi Weingarten, AFT/USA. Panel members: José Campos Trujillo, FE.CCOO/Spain; Walter Dresscher, AOb/The Netherlands; and Eva-Lis Sirén, Lärarförbundet/Sweden.

Learnings from conference “The professional and trade union issues are intertwined,” reiterated Dennis Van Roekel, NEA/USA. “The collaboration with government can strengthen unions. Also, advocating for public education is also advocating for rights and democracy.”

He asked participants: “Based on what you heard, what are your ideas for the next conference of OECD affiliates? What suggestions do you have for EI’s alliance with OECD? What would you like to do when you go back home?”

In his conclusions to the conference, EI Senior Consultant John Bangs stressed the choice governments are faced with: to understand that public education services are essential to quality or to give education to private providers.

“During a breakout session,” he said, “Beatriz Pont from the OECD insisted that having a public education focused on quality and equality is the best economic choice for governments for saving money and investing in same time. Unless the disadvantaged people and communities’ needs are addressed, no quality system will be created.”

He went on to say that many effective systems have strong partnerships between governments and unions.

On the relationship that EI has with the OECD, Bangs reminded participants that the OECD was the outcome of the Marshall Plan after World War II. “It was conceived as an intergovernmental organisation. Based on a request from the UK Labour government, trade unions were embedded in the OECD structure. Maintaining a dialogue even in the hardest of times has been crucial. OECD, as well as other organisations, is no monolith: There are structures, with people who are pro-market and hostile to unions, and those who are not, but having a dialogue is paramount and commonly agreed. Having pluralism is key to future work.”