September 2015        

One step nearer to privatising schools

Dónall Ó Briain

The national school on the island of Inis Meáin, Co. Galway, needs a second teacher—not because of the number of pupils (there are only nine) but because of the number of subjects to be taught. Up to now the solitary teacher has been expected to teach the whole national school curriculum.
     Now the school has been “rescued”—by a transnational insurance company.
     Zurich Insurance is still staggering from a price-fixing scandal in the United States, where it was obliged to make a settlement of $171 million when its anti-competitive scheme was exposed. Earlier, in 2007, a subsidiary was forced to pay $16.8 million to settle a case with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for helping hedge funds to disguise their identities when engaging in improper trading practices.
     This is the first time that a national school has been subsidised by a transnational corporation, bringing us another step closer to the outright purchasing of schools by profiteers, as promoted by the European Union and now by the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. They may not covet small schools on islands, but once the principle is established it will be very hard to pull back.
     Sadly, the development has been welcomed not only by the media (what would you expect?) but also by parents and the local community, frustrated by the refusal of the Department of Education to allocate another teacher.
     The community has even launched a web site for further fund-raising (otherwise the government’s job) and to publicise the “generosity” of the transnational corporation. It must be manna from heaven for the Department of Education, desperate to close “uneconomic” schools.
     Like bus routes, hospitals, and post offices, schools will be fair game, especially if the vicious TTIP agreement is ratified. Sadly, one victimised community has decided to give in to spurious charity and to go out with a begging-bowl instead of to stand and fight.

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