The challenge to reverse the growing commercialisation and privatisation of education requires solidarity across nations, Education International project director Angelo Gavrielatos told Federation's 20th Aboriginal Members Conference on Saturday.
"For us to succeed, we've got to realise that this is so big, no one union can do it alone; no one country can do it alone. We are dealing with global, transnational, multinational corporate actors," Mr Gavrielatos said.
"We need to build genuine solidarity across nations, North-South, South-North, South-South and North-North solidarity in order expose this cancer, in order to put the pressure on lame governments who in all too many cases are not only facilitating but encouraging the privatisation of education."
Education is lucrative — worth an estimated $4.9 trillion in 2015.
Mr Gavrielatos said corporations are trying to monetise every aspect of education. He said they tell governments they have a problem with their education system and they can solve it — by selling them standardised tests, resources, teacher assessment tools and teacher education programs.
He said Pearson had "taken over" NAPLAN. "Once you've taken over NAPLAN, then you back-map, don't you? You start producing the resources for it, then you start wanting to do the teacher professional development."
Mr Gavrielatos said a grotesque form of privatisation was the establishment of chains of low-fee, for-profit schools in the Global South.
He knows of cases where high school graduates are put in front of students with just five weeks' training and an e-tablet from which they must read a script for each lesson, developed in the United States: "So much for cultural and linguistic and cultural sensitivity, and relevance."
Some education facilities have been described as "chicken coops" by ministerial officials and sanitation standards put health and safety risk, he said.
"Every child has got the right to a quality education — to be taught by a fully qualified teacher delivering an engaging curriculum in facilities that are safe," he said.
Global corporations are also trying to create business opportunities from the Syrian refugee crisis by devising market creation programs, he also mentioned.
Education International is working with education unions in countries including Kenya, Uganda, the Philippines, India, Columbia, Brazil, Nepal, Liberia, Uruguay and Peru, against the commercialisation and privatisation of education — mobilising teachers, building alliances with civil society organisations and then advocating for governments to reverse their actions.
In a win for the campaign, Uganda's high court has upheld the government's right to order the closure of Bridge International Academies' chain of schools in the country.
Angelo Gavrielatos is a former Federation deputy president.