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SPEECHES

Education International World Congress, Jomtien, July 25, 2001

 

Text of the speech delivered by Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson, Global March Against Child Labour and Steering Committee Member, Global Campaign on Education - as key speaker.

 

Friends,

When we are assembled here today as a strong power of educators of the world, the relatives of Gajendra Ray and Bibha Jha must be busy in performing the last rituals and must be talking on the fate and the future of three ill fated children left behind. In their suicidal note written only last Thursday a 36 and 30-year-old teacher couple has written something which manifest frustration, harassment and the agonies of millions of teachers of the world. They were teaching in a local college at Madhepura in Bihar and were not paid salaries for several months. Unable to bear the grave financial crisis the couple took the extreme step of ending their lives by consuming poison. This is not just an isolated case but symptomatic of larger malaise in the system.

 

Just before leaving from my hometown, Delhi, for this Conference, Babita who has never heard the name of Jomtien, Thailand, asked me with curiosity, "Are you going to bring police to punish my employer?" Babita, a 10-year-old girl was compelled to work as domestic child worker, as a local school refused her admission because she did not carry the birth and bonafide domicile certificate. Only a few days back before she tried to escape form her employer, her legs were tied and were forced into a plate filled with acid. And she was brutally beaten on her head repeatedly. Her illiterate father could not do anything and was manipulated by the local police and hospital authorities to falsely settle the case without appropriate justice.

 

Friends, how long can we tolerate these shabby treatments being meted out to the custodians of the future generation - the teachers? How long would the voices of children remain unheard?

 

Despite, these kinds of challenges, which the teacher community is facing today, their very existence has become a big question due to dirty design and apathy of the ruling clique, we are fortunate to be associated with teachers and their organisations in our national and international campaigns against the scourge of child labour and illiteracy. We draw enormous inspiration and strength from you and our campaigns receive cutting edge by your support and participation. The most recent example of your support and solidarity was during our unprecedented 15,000 km Shiksha Yatra, a nationwide march for the right to education in India. This five and half month journey, which culminated at Delhi on 20 June 2001, with over 50,000 people assembling to demand free, compulsory, equal and meaningful education, owes a lot in its success to your support.

 

The Shiksha Yatra highlighted the fact that both education and educators are suffering because education is related with the wider question of justice and empowerment of people, which has a potential to change the very nature of power structure in favour of disadvantaged. The ruling clique is putting kinds of obstacles and fetters for the realisation of universalisation of education. The challenge before us has become all the more pronounced because in the present context of knowledge capitalism, the ruling class alliance has solidified to such an extent that it can be described by the word 'fusion' and which with their unified and combined strength is standing against education and educators.

 

Some three decades back, a famous futurologist, Alvin Tofler, in his "Powershift", predicted that 'Smokestack Industries' (manufactories) giving way to "Blue Chip Industries" would usher an era of knowledge capitalism. Much before and later to Tofler, a several democratic thinkers also predicted that, by empowering the masses, democratisation process will usher an era of equality, liberty and fraternity - an era where everyone will be equal, marked by zeroing of manmade and manufactured cleavages into a feeling of communion and oneness.

 

The Tofler prognosis came true but the later remains a wild chimera - a utopia. And, a mere glance at the ongoing evolutionary process will tell you in a loud voice that the chasm between agents of knowledge capitalism and the overwhelming majority living outside its frontier or, at best, surviving on its refuse scraping garbage is widening in a frenetic pace. Moreover, democracy, which is supposed to be a liberating force with a potential to break the 'culture of silence' of the masses and mechanism of equalization, has been hijacked by the rich 15% of the global population and has been reduced to a mere tool to coerce/exploit rest 85% of poor and persuasively and legitimately marginalised by manufacturing consent.

 

Friends, the world is witnessing today fusion of power of namely market, state, and knowledge. The frontline industries such as space, nuclear, genetic, and information technology have a strong knowledge base. They generate an enormous wealth - the fact reaffirmed by a mere glance at the Fortune 500 List. And, we all know, as MNCs and TNCs are spreading, the tentacles of these industries have started controlling our life and even death. The redemption of soul is possible through consuming a genetically mediated food (as loudly told by billboards); transcendence of human limit is possible through space technology; and the nemesis of humankind is possible only by pushing a nuclear button. In short, our life is propelled and controlled by them.

 

This tendency could be reflected to India's in-famous cast system where society was divided in four categories determined by birth. The master of knowledge--Brahmins, state--Khastriyas and trade--vaishyas had outcasted a vast majority--shudras making them untouchables.

 

The exclusionary club or clique of three forms of power treats the rest of the world as untouchable and outcast. The world today is structured in a manner which resembles a nucleus inhabited by the bearer of three forms of power surrounded by thick periphery housing teeming powerless and voiceless millions and billions mainly coming from the post- colonial society or victims of an internal colonization. The linkage or the truck between nucleus and periphery is one that of exploitation: Guniea Pig for scientific experimentation, market, and cheap labour, to be precise. This fusion of power has become a greatest threat for the mankind today. Earlier in the age of separation of power arbitrariness of one kind was offsetted by another. The poor and marginalised today is not in a position to face the combined might of these powers.

 

How to break this 'unholy alliance' of different forms of power is a fundamental question confronting poor and marginalised civil society actors and initiators. How to sharpen the language of resistance is another. The answer is simple: "UNIVERSALISATION OF EDUCATION". It is education and education alone, which has potential to change the tide in favour of voiceless. It has a potential to illuminate the world by ushering an era of justice, fair play, level playing field by removing darkness engulfing the 'vast-universe' of 'little people'. But, how does 'education for all' can undo the existing centralization of power?

 

Friends, let me explain you the mechanism. Education could be interpreted having three dimensions: power, weapon and intelligence (e.g., to hit when the iron is hot). So, when mass power of deprived and disadvantaged class is fused with power of education (wapon) then by the strategic use (intelligence) of weapon the entire face of the earth can be altered in favour of disadvantaged which soon can usher an era of the 'globe with human soul'.

 

Free, compulsory, equal and meaningful education for all can address several types of panacea of ills engulfing our world today. Let's begin with the issue of asymmetrical globalisation. 'Education for All' has a potential for recasting it or infusing in it a human soul which goes much beyond the present fabricated ideal of globalisation with the human face. While the later address cosmetics concerns that is too on the plane of 'lip service', the former transcending the frontier of falsity, mistrust, lies ask for creation of a society based on mutual trust, dignity, equity, rights, justice and a feeling of oneness. A true globalisation is possible only through universalisation of education because it can involve all people, all nations on an equal and humanised plane. 'Education for All' can thus transform globalisation of or for few to 'globalisation for all'.

 

Take another area of concern. The rise of ethnic violence giving rise to fissiparous ethnic sensitivities could easily be mediated or negotiated for everlasting peace as these tendencies are the resultant of frustration arising out of powerlessness. So if people already are empowered through education for all then such situation at the first place may not arise. Such problem could easily be sorted out by a process of dialogue as these are mostly problems of communication. Similarly, the decaying institution of democracy could be redeemed and start brimming with vitality if participation increases which is a natural corollary of universalisation of education.

 

Is the ruling clique or 'power troika' not aware of the fruits and dividends of universalisation of education? I am sure they are. But, they fear that 'education for all' will eventually threaten their hegemonic position. They fear that if people get educated, they will start competing in their hitherto exclusive arena of operation.

 

Then, what is the way out? It is the people's movement supported by the alliance of all such progressive forces, which want a social change for the creation of just and humane society. It is only through mass movement a pressure could be exerted on the ruling clique to immediately do the needful.

 

It is a cruel truth that over 130 million children are out of school and almost 900 million adults are unable to read or write. Though these figures are astronomical solution could very easily be provided by the ruling power troika wills. Translating the idea of 'education for all' into reality requires merely a sum of $ 8 billion per annum, which is just a peanut. It is equal to only four days of world's military spending, one fifth of what Europeans spends on ice-cream in a year, less than one fourth of what they spend on cosmetics or one sixth expenditure of Americans on tobacco. This is nothing but a sheer bankruptcy of global political will and human solidarity. It is a cruel mockery on millions of our children, the future of the humankind.

 

The ruling elite has been successful in creating a 'poverty syndrome', which is an absolute myth. It is not the poverty that causes illiteracy but illiteracy that results in poverty. The cost of eradicating illiteracy is less than the cost of maintaining it. I fail to understand that why education is portrayed as unachievable with huge financial projections as a pre-requisite when it is an agreed fundamental right. This is not the case with other human rights such as right to life, liberty and equity. Learning and eventually receiving education is her or his birthright. Whosoever deprives his or her right, may it be his parent, community, or country is a criminal.

 

There are thousands of reasons to be pessimistic and hopeless. But there are few significant reasons, which are more powerful to become extremely hopeful. The most important is the emergence of the organised civil society power in the post Cold War Era. To name some glaring examples the impact of Jublee 2000, Banning the Landmine, Environmental Movement, the Global March Against Child Labour and the Global Campaign for Education has been enormous. All these initiatives have been successful not only in galvanising the worldwide concerns but also been successful in changing the political agendas.

 

I would like here to emphasise more on the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) which is not only extraordinarily effective in bringing the issue of education on the centrestage but also proved its strong presence in Dakar and post Dakar. A process led by the Education International, Oxfam International, Action Aid and the Global March Against Child Labour, the GCE has mobilised thousands of organisations and millions of people across the globe in less than two years.

 

Three important innovations emerged out of the Dakar framework due to the civil society pressure. Firstly, an agreement to develop a concrete and time-bound National Action Plan by each government at the earliest but not later than 2002 to achieve the goal of Education for All (EFA) 2015. Secondly, forming a 'Global Initiative' by the international community with immediate effects aiming at developing strategy and mobilising resources to provide effective support to the national efforts. Lastly, guaranteeing financing by committing that no country seriously committed to EFA will be thwarted in its achievement of this goal by the lack of resources.

 

Just before the establishment of the GCE, we had experienced enormous success of the Global March Against Child Labour. Trade Unions, NGOs and teachers jointly organised a worldwide march. It resulted in a new culture of alliances giving a new start on the elimination of child labour in a number of countries. It ultimately resuted in the unanimous adoption of the ILO Convention 182 on Worst Forms of Child Labour.

 

Teacher's Unions can play a very important role in the follow-up process for example in the ratification and implementation of ILO Convention 182 to ensure the immediate elimination of child labour. In 2001, the Global March has launched two significant campaigns involving thousands of children, NGOs, trade unions and teachers.

 

The Global March Campaign Against Domestic Child Labour, launched in January, sheds lights on the most invisible form of child labour. At the time of its launch, ICFTU has called on all 155 million trade union members not to employ children in their homes, and this includes teachers in this very room. Many school teachers have taken initiatives to participate in the Child Labour Free Home Sticker Campaign, with their students, to mark homes in their communities child labour free. As I have raised the case of a former girl child servant, Babita, in the beginning of my speech, educating ourselves, children and their parents on this unaccepted and invisible issue is the only way we can bring changes to this worldwide spread exploitation of children.

 

Another is the World Cup Campaign 2002 to highlight the cases of child labour in the sporting goods industry, especially football stitching, at the time of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Since its launch in the end of May, the Campaign has received much attention from media and concerned NGOs, trade unions and youth groups. With football being one of the most popular international sports among children, we could look forward to educating children on child labour issues through something familiar and fun for them. With your help, we can educate children on how their everyday life goods are related to lives of suffering children far away, especially with sporting equipment at school. Sports have always been part of education of mind and body in schools, and now it will play its role to educate heart and courage of students to take action against child labour.

 

These are all examples of how civil society, with help of teachers' unions and schools, have carried out and will carry out actions. The linkage between the elimination of child labour and the promotion of universal education, therefore, the 'Education for All' scheme could not be ignored in effective planning of our actions together.

 

There is a vicious circle of five: poverty, unemployment, population explosion, illiteracy, and child labour. This vicious circle could be broken only by education. The teacher community must play a very crucial role. It can involve itself in the speedy implementation of national action plan together with other civil society organisations. It can create and pressurise national governments to increase the budget allocation on basic education and demand for levying education cess on MNC's, Domestic Corporate Houses and debt cancellation from developed countries and multilateral bodies to generate resources for educating the deprived and the disadvantaged of the world. 'Education for All' is also going to benefit the teacher community in a big way. It will lead to growth and development of the education sector. Teaching is a biggest organized industry in the world. It has the largest number of employees. And if 'Education for All' is ensured the strength of teacher community will be doubled thereby leading to phenomenal growth of teaching sector.

 

In the end, I trust that the Education International World Conference will be instrumental in carrying forward the fight against the illiteracy and eventually the fight against all kinds of exploitation - child labour, gender discrimination and social injustices.

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
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