People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 40

October 07, 2012


Teachers Protest Dismal Education Scenario, Keep Hopes Alive


K Rajendran


MEETING at Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, from September 19 to 21, the 20th congress of the Federation Internationale Syndicale del Enseignement (FISE), which was formed in 1946 and is affiliated to the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), expressed agonising concern over the state of education in various countries and particularly backward countries of the world. 


The FISE congress took place at a time when, as its Declaration emphatically noted, the barbaric capitalist crisis and the aggressiveness of imperialist powers against all the people and workers were making their lives increasingly difficult.




The Caracas Declaration of the FISE, adopted on this occasion, described education as “a key issue for the working class, the popular layers and its children, a key issue for the society, for progress and prosperity” which the policies and actions of the monopolies are blocking. These monopolies, which “continue to plunder the wealth that belongs to the people,” believe that the uneducated man obeys more easily and that a worker without education is more easily exploitable and cheap.


After taking stock of the status of education under the colonial system of yore and under the hegemony of monopoly bourgeoisie today, the declaration said the problems persist because the riches of the countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East and Latin America are being ravaged by these monopolies. As a result, either “our children are left uneducated or they manage to study with many expenses and after many troubles.” These monopolies use education to perpetuate the power of the ruling class against the working class and popular masses. The educational process and its content are being determined by the needs of capitalist development and, especially in times of crisis, education is utilised as a major source of profits for the multinationals; it is being commercialised and its content further downgraded.


The Declaration pointed out that the production relations of today and the political choices of the bourgeoisie have severe implications for the working class and other masses around the world in the field of education. These problems concern access to primary education and literacy rates in each country; the quality and the cost of education; the content and the  infrastructure; tuition fees, prices of books etc; education and training of teachers; the working conditions of teachers and all others working in educational institutions, and many other aspects.




The problems in the sphere of education have been much accentuated in the past few decades. The situation today is horrifying, as is evident from the facts and figures the Caracas Declaration gives.


1) The number of illiterate people in developing countries exceeds 75 million. One in eight children does not go to primary school. About 55  per cent of them are girls. In Asia, Africa, the poor countries of Latin America the figures are frightening.


2) In sub-Saharan Africa (in Tanzania, Ethiopia, etc), one third of the children do not go to school. Millions of children do not learn the alphabet of their country.


3) Millions of children have no minimum food; they are malnourished and sick. Others walk for miles to reach the place where elementary classes are being run beneath a tree, inside a hut, in shops or in ruins.


4) The illiteracy rate for the people aged 15-24 years in Africa, with the exception of the countries in the north, is only 23 per cent for the boys and 32 per cent for the girls. In Sierra Leone the percentage reaches 36 per cent for boys and 56 per cent for girls. In Burkina Faso it is 53 per cent for boys and 67 per cent in girls. In Mali it is 64 per cent for boys and 77 per cent for girls.


5) Quite big is the percentage of children who are enrolled in schools but abandon their studies midway (dropouts). Approximately 25 per cent of children do not finish primary school while the percentage of those completing secondary education is only 45 per cent.


5) In 20 countries where armed conflicts are taking place, only one third of schoolchildren manage to survive. Human suffering, accentuation of poverty and elimination of education are inevitable results of the situations of violent conflict. The displaced children, refugees and undocumented immigrants stay unwanted in a country, with most of them not getting even basic education.


6) The rates of illiteracy can differ from country to country and from region to region. Moreover, they even differ for the two sexes in one and the same country. But the gigantic size and the class nature of the problem cannot be ignored.




It is no wonder that in recent years, feeling worried, teachers, students and parents have organised strikes, mobilisations and struggles in many countries. In December 2005 in Bulgaria, 2008 schools and 520 kindergartens did not work because of a strike. Teachers demanded wage increases, education reforms and better conditions of work. The wave strikes in Bulgaria continued intermittently till 2010.


In January 2006, a big strike against privatisation of schools began in Guatemala. Teachers underlined the fact that the whole system of private educational institutions means layoffs, working overtime, abolition of rights, worsening social security services, end of pension rights etc.


In Norway, 90,000 teachers went on a strike in March 2006, against the extension of working hours.


A big strike began in Oaxaca, Mexico, in May 2006. It lasted for two months and teachers painted its slogans with their blood. Many of them were arrested and some disappeared. The strike motivated other unions as well and the claims were generalised, bringing in the working class of Mexico. Despite the violent attacks by the army and police force, as ordered by the government, the strikers continued with determination and showed the potential the unions have.


In Niger in October 2006, more than 50,000 teachers of primary and secondary schools went on strike for two months. One may note that according to UN figures, only 29 per cent of the 13.4 million people in Niger learn to read and write.


In Portugal in October 2006, 140.000 teachers went on strike. There were strikes against austerity, against the increasing of retirement age and against the freezing of promotions over the next few years as well.


In Nepal in May 2007, 35,000 schools with 7.8 millions of students did not operate because of a strike by the teachers who opposed the casualisation of those holding permanent positions.


During the winter of 2007, the trade unions under PAME in Greece ran a three months long campaign on education. Thousands of workers were informed on issues concerning education and teachers. The purpose was to make them realise that issues of education should be a concern of the working class as a whole.


In 2010, the PAME organised big strikes and demonstrations in 76 cities in Greece, and the teachers who are members of the trade unions affiliated to the PAME participated in all these mobilisations.


In Guinea Bissau in May 2009, teachers organised a big strike asking for their wages that had not been paid, reforms in the field of education, improvement of the equipment in schools, better teacher training and budget increases for education.


In Honduras in August 2010, a teachers’ strike lasted for more than three weeks. It was marked by brutal police attacks, injuries and arrest of dozens of protesters. The latter were demanding the payment of their insurance contributions or fees due since 2007 and the implementation of the agreement that was agreed to by the government of Zelaya, concerning wage increases and the protection of labour rights.


In Chile in 2011 and 2012, there were massive struggles of pupils, students and teachers. The WFTU supported these struggles and its general secretary and other members of the Presidential Council went to Chile to express their internationalist solidarity in person.


Other big or not so big strikes have been held in other countries as well.




Almost all over the world, a big threat to education is of its privatisation. Through privatisation, the ruling classes convert education from a social right into a commercial item for profit and speculation. The FISE Declaration expressed the organisation’s determination to firmly continue its struggle against privatisation.


The living standards of teachers vary from country to country but overall it is quite low. The burning problems affecting the teachers are of wage cuts, freeze of salaries, huge shortage of teaching personnel in schools, shortage of books, etc.


The FISE Declaration urged the trade unions affiliated to the WFTU and their members to contribute to the militant orientation of teachers. It urged the teachers worldwide to realise the specificity of their role as workers and as educators, to develop their class consciousness, to organise into class-oriented trade unions and to contribute to strengthening the class movement. More importantly, as far as possible within the class based education system of today, they must educate the people about their ideals and principles, and to develop militants who would defend the working class and its interests.


The Declaration asked the FISE members to promote the objectives of education as a social right and necessity, so that education is aimed to promote the welfare of the whole society. Education must be for continuous satisfaction of the people's needs and not for capitalist profit. The Declaration loudly announced: as yesterday so today, our people do have the power to shape their future.