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Argentina - Education, a public good.

1999, by CTERA (Argentinean Confederation of Education Workers)

Since 1973, CTERA (Argentinean Confederation of Education Workers) is intensely fighting to safeguard Education as a public good of the Argentinean society. This objective, which may seam obvious in societies where public education is predominant, becomes a target for day-to-day fights in countries where the State, not only does not care about education, but openly promotes the privatization of the education system, including the schools and the financing of education.

This situation is even more critical in countries, such as Argentina, subject to strong constraints and explicitly conditioned to the adjustment policies imposed by IMF and the World Bank. These policies strengthen the general State-promoted privatization of health, social security and education systems, as well as of a number of enterprises in other domains. This panorama is completed when the education, as the system for the learning of citizenship, for the socialization of knowledge, for the appropriation of history and culture, becomes a pipe dream in countries that have suffered long periods of military dictatorships and that are going through political transitions that aggravate social inequities and deteriorate the industrial and rural environment. Since the sixties, Argentina has been through cycles of economic recession, social decomposition, political crisis and corrupt regimes.

CTERA, an organization that brings together more than 230,000 teachers nationwide, is aware that both the school and the teachers constitute an inestimable patrimony of civic life, and has thus decided to fight against this degradation of Argentinean society. The beginning of this fight was completely corporatist, since it was necessary to protest against the deterioration of the purchasing power of the teaching staff. However, the union leaders understood straightaway that, in order to advocate teachers’ demands and safeguard the school as a public good, the path to be followed was not to make one strike after the other. Or, if strikes were indeed needed, a different strategy was also required.

First of all, on account of a domestic or family reason: Since the majority of Argentinean teachers are women, and many of them mothers, they would not make a strike at the expense of their own children. Moreover, the teachers understood quickly that strikes in public services provoke generalized troubles that isolate protest movements. In view of the challenge to protest against the low salaries and the government’s will to privatize teaching, CTERA decided to organize a particular kind of strike: a hunger strike. And in fact for a number of years teachers have made hunger strikes in turns in the main squares of the large cities of Argentina. The most important and long was installed under a famous White tent in the center of Buenos Aires, in front of the Palace of Congress; it has been there since April 1997. In this place, thousands of teachers have participated in the strike, in turns of 30 or 40 per week, coming from all the country’s regions. The presence of these teachers, women and men, in a hunger strike has provoked deep feelings of emotion and sympathy among students and the public.

But CTERA soon understood that the hunger strike protest, though strong and necessary, was not enough for counteracting the Neo-liberal policies imposed by national governments and multilateral lending agencies.

The problem of education financing was notably stressed. How to finance education when the restriction and even the reduction of the State budget becomes the canon of public policy? How to safeguard the school as a public good when the State imposes privatization? How to give an answer to the demand of thousands of students to learn and understand, while the Ministry of Education abandons its guiding role and is unable to update the curricula?

Before the weakness of the State, CTERA decided to open the debate to the society as a whole, so that the survival of schools and public education would precisely be a public affair, concerning citizens as a whole. If the Argentinean state has become unable to take on its elementary public good management responsibility, it is up to the society to take it on. The State, at least in Argentina, does not have the monopoly of public goods, and notably education. In order to assume this civic responsibility, CTERA has set up a large participatory process: Participants of education congresses and regional meetings are not only teachers, but also students, local elected representatives, members of parliament, NGOs, enterprises, etc. The goal is to open up the debate, to draft the curricula, to prepare education budgets. In this process the leaders of CTERA have encountered the Alliance for a Responsible and United World. In 1993 they participated in the regional meetings that led to the preparatory convention for the Assembly called “General States of the Planet”, where the Platform for a Responsible and United World was launched. Since then, they have had an active participation in the construction of the Alliance. The Platform is a reference document in the curricula; it is used by teachers in several subjects (history, civic education, economy and sciences). Moreover, the texts of the Alliance have been used to facilitate courses on issues concerning complexity, diversity and unity, the imaginary, etc.

In order to answer the eternal question who trains the teachers?, CTERA has organized a post-doctoral training program addressed to Argentinean teachers and researchers, and offered by partners of the Alliance’s Education campaign or other neighboring campaigns, as interactive courses.

Finally, a series of publications on the making seeks to leave a written track about this experience of CTERA and about the contents of its theoretical, methodological and historical reflection (cf. F-1.7 and F-6.7).

KEY WORDS: Environmental Education; Citizenship; Teachers; State; Trade union organization.
AUTHOR: Gustavo MARIN. F.P.H. : Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer pour le Progrès de l’Homme, FPH, 38, rue Saint-Sabin. 75011 Paris, France, Tel : 33 / 1 / 43 14 75 75. Fax: 33 / 1 / 43 14 75 99, e-mail:
CONTACT : Laura Maffei, Carlos Galano. CTERA. Rivadavia 3623.1204 Buenos Aires,
Argentine, E-mail: