November 22, 2014
We don’t need no education
The extreme situation of the deadlocked classes of Buenos Aires province calls for extreme measures — not the use of force (there has already been too much violence with Thursday’s nasty incidents) but rather drawing inspiration from the Pink Floyd song: “We don’t need no education.” In other words, everybody knows that the educational system is hopelessly obsolete, clinging to its 20th and even 19th century roots when we are already deep into the second decade of the 21st century — if striking teachers insist on preventing the school year from beginning, then why not put the whole system out of its misery and start all over again? A drastic solution, of course, and doubtless too extreme — not only would almost a million teachers join the ranks of the jobless but countless parents would be thrust into utter despair, not because they would be losing a launching-pad for their offspring’s future but rather free baby-sitting. Yet the latter has already became virtually the basic function of today’s schooling and technological change can only speed up with the digital gap between generations destroying what little authority teachers have left — surely the basic unit of today’s and tomorrow’s education must be the computer, not a building. If education will inevitably be transformed in the next decade or so, why not start now?
And if society would rather not contemplate this leap into the dark (or light), what are the alternatives? At the basic level of a pay negotiation, the deadlock does not seem so insoluble with Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli offering 30 percent and the teachers insisting on 35 percent but it is not quite so simple as a five percent gap. While the provincial government’s offer is staggered into next year, the teachers union insists that the proposal is only tantamount to 21 percent for 80 percent of teachers — and then there is that highly contentious issue of the attendance bonus over which governments at all levels are reluctant to yield (and quite rightly because otherwise the dividend becomes too large for the budget).
No short-term solutions for millions of schoolchildren deprived of their right to a schooling while proposing an educational revolution now might be too ambitious, no matter how inexorable in a very near future. But perhaps one medium-term strategy could be considered — reversing the 1991-3 decentralization of education to the provinces under the Carlos Menem presidency, which was fiscally driven and wholly negative for academic standards.