Students Worldwide Join Week of Action to Reclaim Education
Students across the world rallied, held teach-ins, and took to the streets this week as part of the Global Week of Action to Reclaim Education slated to take place from May 1st – 8th. The week of action was part of an ongoing effort being mounted by groups of students from many different countries to resist the commodification of education – a trend being seen across the world wherein access to education is becoming less a public good for all and more a consumer product to be purchased by those who can afford it – and to demand instead an “emancipatory education” that would help lift youth across the world from poverty and prepare them for the challenges their generation faces.
The week of action saw protests and educational events hosted in at least 10 different countries from Morocco to India to the US. Student groups organized the events as an answer to a call to action to organize the Global Week of Action against problems faced by students around the world: “Budget cuts, outsourcing, school closures, climbing costs of living and tuition fees, among other phenomena, are all linked to an increasing commercialization and privatization of education. Uniting globally is our answer to these obstacles – fighting for emancipatory education for all.”
The initial call was made by transnational student activists coordinating via the International Student Movement platform (ISM). United by the ISM’s International Joint Statement and the global framework, which includes the popular “#1World1Struggle” slogan and hashtag, the week of action advances the ISM’s aim to build more connection and solidarity among student and youth activists across the globe who are increasingly beset by the same sets of issues. The overarching goal of emancipatory education, for the ISM, means “being enabled to critically reflect and understand the power structures and environment surrounding him-/herself. Education must not only enable the emancipation of the individual but society as a whole.”
The ISM has helped coordinate global student actions aimed at aligning global education systems with this goal since 2008, and has been gaining momentum. One of the ISM’s co-founders and administrators is known as Mo from Marburg. A former University of Marburg student and General Students’ Committee member, Mo currently works with Free Education Movement Marburg (FreEduMM) in Germany. He has worked with ISM since its inception, and he talked with Popular Resistance about the Global Week of Action to Reclaim Education.
Talk about the International Student Movement platform. What is it?
Mo: When people hear about the International Student Movement, they often assume that it is some sort of organization or fixed network. But that’s not the case. The ISM is an open communication platform for individuals and groups around the world identifying with the struggle for free and emancipatory education. After all, people worldwide face very similar challenges within schools and universities: tuition fees, out-sourcing, repression, de-democratization, and commercialization. The ISM is used to network, exchange information, and help with coordination on the transnational level.
Since the ISM is a communication platform, nobody can represent or speak for it. The infrastructure consists mainly of a global mailing list that currently connects 1,500 contacts worldwide, a website, regular chat meetings, as well as social media channels.
The ISM was initiated in 2008 following an international day of action against the commercialization of education on November 5th. After the day of action, which was mostly coordinated on the transnational level by individual activists in Paris, Dublin, Bristol, Monrovia, and Ottawa, it was decided to establish some sort of longer lasting infrastructure to stay connected and get more people around the world involved. That is when the ISM was born.
The platform is being upheld by individual activists in different parts of the world. It will continue to exist as long as individuals who are passionate about the struggle help to maintain the infrastructure, improve it, and make use of it.
How did this Global Week of Action come about? How broad is participation going to be?
Mo: This year’s Global Week of Action was proposed by student activists in Osijek, Croatia. During various public chat meetings a call to action was created and a common global framework of the week of action agreed on.
It’s difficult to exactly estimate what will happen during the week of action, although some groups did announce their activities in advance. A whole week of activities is being organized in Rabat, Morocco and Chicago in the US. Free universities have been planned at the University of Sheffield in the UK and in New York City while various parts of the world groups mobilize for student blocks at May Day rallies. We also expect to see some street art in Rio de Janeiro and Amsterdam.
Until May 8th, individuals or small groups can also be part of the global effort by participating in “Your struggle in a picture” in which people take a picture holding a banner/poster with a message related to the struggle at a local landmark or in front of a building displaying the name of the university or school, and/or they can join the call for simultaneous banner drops.
Why is the Global Week of Action happening now? What do you hope it will accomplish?
Mo: The week of action is happening now because students in Osijek proposed it and people elsewhere happened to support the idea.
But it is also no coincidence that the week of action kicks off on May Day. As explained in the call to action: “We decided to kick off this Global Week of Action on May 1st because we see the struggle within the education system as being directly linked to the worldwide labor movement. We are all struggling against symptoms of the currently predominant economic system and will only be able to overcome it by uniting our efforts.”
I can’t speak for others, but personally, what I hope to achieve with the week of action is to have people on all countries and continents move closer together. I think these processes break down national borders – at least in our minds. That’s one aspect.
Another aspect is that the week of action provides groups with a framework, which helps to easily link local problems with the struggle on the global level. By focusing on the global level the actual structural roots of our issues – which cause many of the developments we face and fight against on the local level – are exposed. Instead of pointing the finger at single political parties, governments, or university administrations, the focus is on the predominant economic system. Around the world, the capitalist system shapes the education system. I believe the week of action can help to raise awareness in this regard.
Where in the world do you expect to see the most student activity? What student struggles are most significant or intense right now?
Mo: This isn’t easy to answer. To what extend a movement is gaining momentum depends on tactics applied by local groups as well as local conditions in general.
Currently I don’t really see any one student struggle as the “most significant” one. Usually we consider “most intensive” those protests which are most present in the mainstream media. But also smaller activities that don’t receive much coverage can be very significant for developments on the local level – especially in regions where emancipatory efforts are not common.
I don’t know what is happening everywhere in the world. But here are some examples of what I have been observing lately:
Lecturers in Nigeria have been on strike for many months in their struggle against a chronically underfunded education system. And they are also being supported by some student organizations, which regularly take to the streets. Student groups in Sri Lanka and parts of southern Europe, like Spain, Italy, and Greece are still continuously very active in the struggle against austerity measures in their countries. Besides that, students in the US, UK, the Netherlands, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Germany, and other parts of the world rally now and then at individual universities to protest cuts and fees as well as the increasing commercialization of education in general.
At this stage, only a few of those involved in the above mentioned protests actually network on the transnational level and get involved in the coordination efforts through the ISM.
It remains to be seen where most activities linked to the week of action will take place.
What do you think is next for the global student movement? How do you hope to see students’ struggles progress in the long run?
Mo: Well, it would be great if more groups and movements were to come together and unite in the struggle for free emancipatory education, so that national borders disappear in their minds and their efforts are combined. After all, the problems we face are similar around the world.
Future actions coordinated through the ISM depend on initiatives or proposals by activists or groups, but for the past few years there have been calls for weeks of action in November, as it is a good time of the year to get active for many students around the world. It’s one of the few months during which there are no breaks at most educational institutions around the world.
November was also the month that the rather large global education strike took place in 2012, so we will have to wait and see.
I believe this quote taken from the international joint statement on education, which was also formulated during many chat meetings in 2010 and 2011 and is now being supported by more than 100 groups worldwide, brings the future of our movement to the point pretty well:
“While applying local pressure to influence our individual local/regional politics and legislation, we must always be aware of the global and structural nature of our problems and learn from each other’s tactics, experiences in organizing, and theoretical knowledge. Short-term changes may be achieved on the local level, but great change will only happen if we unite globally.”
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For more information about the International Student Movement platform, visit www.ism-global.net. For more on the Global Week of Action, visit www.ism-global.net.
Roshan Bliss is a student organizer, inclusivity & anti-oppression trainer, and democratic process specialist with a passion for empowering young people to defend their futures and democratize their schools. Bliss, a former occupy activist, serves as Assistant Secretary of Education for Higher Education for the Green Shadow Cabinet.