Argentina at Risk of an Educational System Serving the Market
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 21 2016 (IPS) – In Argentina, teachers, students and trade unionists are protesting against mass redundancies in education, which they say are part of a process of undermining public education and a move towards a new model based on market needs.
“An educational model is emerging that is no longer focused on social rights for the population as a whole but instead focuses on the creation of a socioeconomic model that follows the logic of the entrepreneur, a logic of the self-made person,” Myriam Feldfeber told IPS.
The expert on education from the University of Buenos Aires took part in a “hug” around the Ministry of Education in the Argentine capital on Aug. 31, held to protest a new wave of 200 layoffs, and setbacks with regard to “the construction of free, universal and egalitarian education.”
Most of the people laid off now were temporary or contract workers, and the dismissals came on top of another 1,100 who lost their jobs in education since centre-right Mauricio Macri became president on Dec. 10, 2015.
Since then, 10,662 civil servants have been fired from 23 ministries and government agencies.
“I worked in the Teacher Training Institute for over six years, in an area of policy implementation related to research development in teacher training institutes throughout the country,” Laura Pico told IPS.
“On Friday (Aug. 26) I received a call from an unknown number notifying me that I was being dismissed by the ministry and that on Monday I shouldn’t return to work,” she said.
The mass layoffs are part of a broader process of downsizing and the elimination of several education policies, many of them implemented during the administrations of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández (2007-2015).
The State Employees’ Association (ATE) complains of an underutilization of the budget for education and the dismantling of areas of teachers’ training, human rights, adult education, statistics, children’s and youth choirs, among others.
We note with great concern that our dismissals – besides being a target of protests by our union – undermine educational policies and reflect a withdrawal of the state from the territories,” ATE delegate Lautaro Pedot told IPS.
Fernanda Saforcada, an expert on education and the academic director of the Buenos Aires-based Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), lamented the dismissals, which apart from being a human and social problem, “entail the loss of cumulative experience.”
“We are talking about technical teams that carried out an activity, have ties at work, networks that have been built up. All this represents a major loss. Expertise, history, knowledge and relations are lost,” she said.
This dismantling is more apparent in areas like the National Institute of Teachers’ Training and the National Institute of Technological Education, as well as in programmes on socio-educational matters, digital inclusion, human rights, comprehensive sex education, arts education, and education for young people and adults.
Other programmes that were reduced or eliminated include university scholarships, promotion of gender equality, and provision of computers to students with special needs or as an incentive to finish high school.
“I think that now the intention is to aim for an education system opposed to one of inclusion and of ensuring the right to education,” said Pico.
According to Feldfeber, who is also the coordinator of Red Estrado (Latin American Network of Studies on the Work of Teachers) and of CLACSO research groups, “what basically disappears is the idea of education as a right, on the public policy horizon.”
As an example of the strategy of inclusion that was being implemented, she mentioned the creation of 1
4 national universities, “especially in places where segments of the population traditionally excluded from the system are starting to have access to education,” which are now being called into question.
“It is a matter of serious concern that some central positions in the Ministry of Education are being held by people who don’t come from the field of education – business executives and people who don’t have any experience in the public sector,” Feldfeber stressed.
“One of the highest-ranking positions is held by a former Philip Morris CEO (Ezequiel Newbery, now assistant secretary for socio-educational programmes) who says he isn’t familiar with education, doesn’t understand what a socio-educational policy is, and that he comes to the ministry to bring order,” she told IPS.
“’Bringing order’ means what we are witnessing now: firing workers and dismantling teams,” she said.
The government argues that it is “modernising” the public administration and restructuring the ministries.
Education Minister Esteban Bulrich advocates an “educational revolution”, which he defines as “giving any Argentine, no matter where he was born, the possibility of having the same quality education.”
According to Bulrich, “inclusion by itself, without quality, is no good, it only goes halfway, inclusion by itself is a fraud, and to improve quality you have to begin with the real agents of change: teachers.”
“The idea is to provide (teachers) with more tools, in order for them to have a modern, 21st century perspective of the skills and abilities that the children in our educational system need to become autonomous beings,” he said in a ceremony in June.
Fernanda Saforcada said the private sector is being strengthened “in the context of a process of transforming the role of the state.”
“The state is taking on a new role in search of alliances with NGOs (non-governmental organisations), foundations and business sectors,” she said.
“Many of these NGOs are connected to business sectors, which shows how the public sphere has been undermined, giving a new content to educational management,” she told IPS.
“And when we refer to the private sector, beyond the public-private dichotomy, we’re talking about the interests of some sectors prevailing over the common good.”
The ATE complained about an attempt to “privatise” programmes such as Connect Equality, aimed at promoting digital inclusion, inherited from the previous government, which this year “experienced the influx of international companies such as Microsoft and Google.”
ATE would like to replace these operational programmes with locally produced open-source software – such as Huayra – in the laptops distributed for free to students.
The Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2000-2015 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) highlighted progress made in the Argentine educational system in the last decade, following the goals established in the World Education Forum in Dakar in 2000.
The report pointed out that public expenditure on education in this South American country was among the highest in Latin America, representing 6.26 per cent of GDP.
Moreover, 99.1 percent of Argentine children are in primary school, which makes it the country with the highest coverage in the region, along with Uruguay.
With regard to secondary school, the net enrolment ratio is one of the highest in Latin America: 89.06 per cent in 2012, although drop-out rates remain a cause for concern.
Argentina, with a population of 43 million, has also reduced the illiteracy rates from 2.6 to 1.9 percent of people older than 15.
Related IPS Articles
- Studying and Working Poses New Challenges for Argentina’s Youth
- Precarious Nature of Public Employment Facilitated Mass Lay-offs in Argentina
- Digital Era Here to Stay in Argentina’s Classrooms
- Poverty No Longer Explains School Dropout in Argentina
Pictures for this story
This story includes downloadable print-quality images — Copyright IPS, to be used exclusively with this story.
- “Hugging” the Ministry of Education in Buenos Aires, teachers and other education workers protest mass redundancies and other changes in a field that has been key until now with regard to inclusion policies. Credit: Guido Fontán/IPS
- The learning process has been transformed in Argentina’s public schools by the Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality) programme, which provides a laptop to each student. This is one of the education projects affected by the changes introduced by the government of Mauricio Macri. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS