Education is a backbone to any society. Across the world social movements are struggling for accessible public education in the face of economic ‘austerity’ measures administered by neoliberal budgetary knifes. Budgets for public educational institutions are being too often sacrificed for corporate tax cuts, driving both the access to and quality of education down for the people.
In Canada, as the cost of quality post secondary education rises, the Conservative government is moving to cut the corporate tax rates to 15 per cent by 2012. Canada will then have the lowest tax rate for corporations in G7 major economies, reducing annual government revenues by $14-billion, as our schools, universities and society generally is forced to walk a financial tightrope in times of economic crisis.
Serious questions on our collective future must be raised as education is under the gun across the world. Beyond the hollowing out of public education through budgetary attacks, access to education is also becoming eroded by war.
In Palestine, ongoing Israeli military occupation in the West Bank and the military siege on Gaza have systematically undermined the Palestinian educational system. Beyond the lack of serious financing, ongoing Israeli efforts to colonize Palestine have often focused on shutting down access to education. Israeli military curfews and checkpoints routinely block student access to schools and university, while the Canadian-backed Israeli siege on Gaza has meant that hundreds of Palestinian students in Gaza awarded scholarships abroad have been blocked from leaving the Gaza Strip, including students awarded Fulbright scholarships in the U.S.
According to the Right to Education campaign in Palestine, 91 percent of students at An-Najah University miss classes because of delays at checkpoints, while 64 percent reported they had been physically abused at a checkpoint. Virtually all students reported “feelings of anger and nervousness at checkpoints.”
In late October people from across the world will gather in Palestine for the World Education Forum, an international event on the right to education rooted in Palestinian society where orchestrated attacks on education by Israeli occupation forces are some of the most severe in the world today. A forty person delegation will travel from Quebec to Palestine to support and join the World Education Forum. Artists in Montreal are stepping up to support this important initiative with a major benefit concert on Friday, September 24th at Cabaret Mile-End.
“Kalmunity certainly believes in education by the people, for the people, in a world where distinct cultures thrive without being crushed or colonized like in Palestine,” outlines Jahsun, percussionist and coordinator of Kalmunity Vibe Collective who will present a Jazz infused project at the concert for the World Education Forum.
Also featured at the concert is celebrated Montreal singer/songwriter Paul Cargnello (pictured above), performing songs from a soon to be released new album that builds on international alternative radio hits like Une Rose Noire. A singer that has been supporting grassroots activism and social justice campaigns over the past decade, Cargnello’s support for education in Palestine builds on a living history.
“Education is directly associated to class these days and the difficulties that so many people have is that without education they can’t get out of a financial slump,” reflects Cargnello in an interview with Art Threat. “This is the reality of global capitalism today. It is an unfair situation. [I] think that access to a free and public education is one of the most important challenges to eliminating poverty around the world.”
“The Palestinians are an oppressed people, one of the forgotten populations in the world and in Palestine today kids are growing up without access to education, in communities that are being hit so hard by injustice,” continues Cargnello.
In Palestine the growing scope of the World Education Forum reflects the broader shift in world opinion toward the struggle for Palestinian liberation. As political leaders stage photo opportunities, the reality of life for the Palestinian people continues to deteriorate, while others are mobilizing internationally at a grassroots level for Palestinian freedom.
Artists are playing a key role in this growing global movement. In Montreal last winter 500 artists signed a collective declaration to back the global campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Israeli government, including all those who will take the stage at the upcoming benefit for the World Education Forum in Palestine taking place this week in Montreal.
For more information on the World Education Forum in Palestine visit: wef-palestine.org.
For more information on the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israeli visit: pacbi.org.
Stefan Christoff is a Montreal based community activist, journalist and musician. Find him at twitter.com/spirodon.
Photo: Paul Cargnello. Credit: Alexandru Steau.