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At the beginning of July, I had the privilege to attend the Canadian Forum on Public Education entitled Students Before Profit hosted by the Canadian Teachers Federation (CTF).
Heather Smith, the president of CTF, opened up the forum warning educators that big business, privatization, datafication and standardization are slowly infiltrating public education.
Edu-business is a very lucrative and sustainable industry (since there will always be children) which generated 4.9 trillion dollars last year and that number is estimated to increase to 6 trillion in 2 years. Establishments like Pearson, Google, Bridge, APEC (Affordable Public Education Center), Bill Gates Foundation and The World Bank are investing in education for profit. Angelo Gavrielatos, Project Director of Educational International (EI), describes the commercialization and privatization of education like a tsunami; ''You will not see the wave until it hits you.'' He encourages educators and union leaders to start the conversation and fight for free quality education accessible to all.
I also got the chance to meet a researcher in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Alberta, Curtis Riep, who has been researching the growth of for-profit chains of ''low-cost'' private schools, in particular in Uganda, Ghana and the Philippines. He is concerned with how corporate actors are forming educational policies. He told me how he was arrested last year in Uganda while researching Bridge International Academies (BIA). According to Riep, BIA organized the arrest because he was going to put them in a bad light. BIA claims to be affordable education for poor children, but parents spend 25% of their salary to send one child. Teachers are unqualified and the schools are built without following government standards. In addition, BIA has not increased the number of children getting an education in Uganda. Investors such as Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and the Bill Gates Foundation support BIA.
I attended a workshop entitled Protecting Public Education in Francophone Settings presented by Alec Larose from the Fédération des Syndicats de l'Enseignement (FSE) and Luc Allaire from the Centrale des Syndicats du Québec (CSQ). They presented the effect of subsidized private schools in our province. Jaws dropped in the audience when they showed the effect of privatization on the regular classroom in the public schools. The best students have been skimmed off the top in our regular classroom by privatization therefore resulting in difficult classrooms with high levels of special needs. They also talked about how our public schools are now implementing special programs to compete with the private sector. This also creates segregation based on students' academic strengths. There is a lack of equity in our province. This phenomenon does not seem to be occurring at the same level in other provinces.
Unions play an important role in education today. More than ever unions need to educate their members about where education is going and together we need to protect public education which should be free and equitable for all. This was well reiterated by the President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Randi Weingarten, who firstly apologized for her country's President, and then went on to say that unions more than ever are ''becoming the check and balance of democracy''.
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