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Education, neo-colonialism and self-determination

Education, neo-colonialism and self-determination

by toni solo

Aggression by the US and its allies is a deliberate and integral part of their response to steadily less secure access to the world's natural resources. Energy, mineral and water resources are subject to increasing competition. Military action is an extreme resort used when the aggressive trade and development policies of the US and its allies fail to ensure control. Paradoxically, the harder the United States and its allies work to abuse, break up and discard the original anti-colonialist precepts and structures embodied in the United Nations system, the more clearly relevant those ideas and the forms of resistance they inspired become.

In particular, the anti-colonialist meaning in the UN Charter of the principle of the self-determination of peoples is more and more clearly vindicated with every step wealthy imperialist countries take towards the destruction of the system of nation states. Supra-national mechanisms like the World Bank and its regional subsidiaries or the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund have worked decisively for years to destroy national sovereignty in countries too weak to resist. A recent article by Ben Beachey gives a vivid account of how IMF policies have driven Nicaragua's public health system into collapse. (1) To understand where current international policies on trade and development, backed up by the threat of military aggression are leading, a look at Nicaragua's failed education system may help fill in some blanks as well.

Over the last couple of years Nicaragua's education budget has been cut by around 10% each year. Since 1999 in just 6 years the country has had four different Ministers for Education. Of those, teachers in the country generally thought most highly of Jose Antonio Alvarado, currently a possible presidential candidate. Alvarado certainly brought more flair and commitment to the job than his successors who come across as well-meaning but ineffectual. It is certainly hard to see how they could do better, given the successive budgetary straitjackets imposed on the government by the International Monetary Fund year after year. Anyone who has worked with Education Ministry officials can attest to the widespread frustration middle and lower ranking functionaries feel at the chronic lack of resources.

Following the successful national teachers' strike in March and April of 2005, most teachers in Nicaragua got a very small pay rise, for many, as little as US$8 a month. They still get paid far below their colleagues in the rest of Central America. A qualified primary school teacher in Nicaragua can expect to earn about US$90 a month. A qualified secondary teacher makes about US$107 a month. Even senior teachers working in the country's teacher training colleges, people with over 25 years of service and very highly qualified, still earn only about US$175 a month.

Average monthly earnings for secondary teachers in the rest of Central America range between US$250 to US$300 or more, while the cost of living is similar across the region. Small wonder teachers in Nicaragua are generally demoralised. Those who can end up working two or three jobs, night and day, seven days a week in order to make ends meet for themselves and their families. Obviously, the quality of their teaching tends to suffer.

As for the great majoirty of people living in Nicaragua, for teachers too, coping with unrelenting debt is a way of life. Their plight will worsen as price inflation continues apace. Absurd government figures put inflation at under 10%. Everyone knows prices generally - basic food stuffs, transport - have more than doubled over last two years.

Another alarming symptom of the breakdown of Nicaragua's education system is yet another increase this year in the levels of school-age children failing to register for classes. Last year the government estimated around 800,000 school age children would fail to attend school. This year even official estimates range from 900,000 to well over one million. So when regional bodies like the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean issue one of their documents urging the region's governments to do more to promote inclusive education policies and reduce scholastic desertion among the huge population living in poverty, it is impossible to take them seriously.

A clear and shameful contradiction exists between the alleged concern of these multilateral bodies, like ECLAC and the World Bank, which issues regular loans for education programs, and the foolish counterproductive economic policies these same organizations promote. The faith based neo-liberal incantations of privatization, government budget cuts and wholesale deregulation have failed decisively and obviously, beyond any argument. What can the contradiction between the avowals of concern for public education and the relentless application of policies that are bound to destroy public education mean?

The answer almost certainly lies in the drive towards privatization, the only logic that makes any sense of the gross contradiction between the public statements and the actual policies imposed by the World Bank in tandem with the the International Monetary Fund. In November last year newspaper reports led the Education Minister Miguel Angel Garcia to deny suggestions that the World Bank might take over the country's education system. But it is is certainly not unreasonable to see that as the ultimate goal of current policies.

Nicaragua's health and education systems are in deep, unremitting crisis. The country's economy is soon to fall wide open as a result of the legislature's ratification last year of Central American Free Trade Agreement. With regional elections due on the Atlantic Coast in March and presidential elections due in November, US ambassador Paul Trivelli intervenes regularly, publicly and freely in the country's internal politics, ignoring the least effort to comply with diplomatic protocol. Twenty years after their landmark victory against the United States in the International Court of Justice for the terrorist war the US waged them, Nicaragua's people have effectively lost the fundamental vestiges of their self-determination.

1."The IMF Debt Relief Sham - Swindling the Sick" Ben Beachy, Counterpunch, January 30, 2006

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toni solo is an activist based in Central America - contact via www.tonisolo.net

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