Commercialism in Irish schools

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Anyone who has had a child in primary school over the past couple of years has no doubt heard of the ‘Tesco Computers for Schools’ scheme whereby in return for vouchers collected when you do your shopping, Tesco give ‘free’ computer equipment to schools. You’ve probably also heard about Tesco’s ‘Sport For Schools and Clubs’ and SuperValu’s ‘Kids in Action’ schemes. If you’ve seen the TV ads for the SuperValu version, you’ll probably associate SuperValu with healthy, happy kids.But how ‘free’ is ‘free’? Did you realise that to get a ‘free’ Gaelic football from SuperValu (retail price €18), you have to collect vouchers equivalent to shopping worth €3,950. In Tesco’s scheme, a captain’s armband needs €900 worth of shopping. And the figures are even crazier when the computer scheme is analysed. In 2006, to get a ‘free’ Apple 17inch iMac (online retail price €1,400) required a school community to spend €261,600 at Tesco.

Far from giving anything away for ‘free’, these companies are exploiting the fact that government funding of education is totally inadequate to promote themselves and are using ‘pester power’ to divert parents’ shopping spend in their direction. It’s not unusual to see a poster in the entrance hall of a primary school with a huge Tesco logo and a ‘target’ for vouchers collected and – in some cases – one could almost imagine an invisible accusing finger pointing at you to say you didn’t spend enough money in Tesco this week to help your child’s school get ‘free’ computers.

Branding

This creeping commercialisation of Irish primary education (I know it happens at second-level and third-level as well but my experience is of primary) takes other forms as well. Every year for the past 3 – 4 years, pupils in first and second classes have received education packs including badges, stickers, posters and certificates, and featuring a cartoon character Seatbelt Sheriff, from the National Safety Council promoting car safety and seatbelt-wearing. BUT all of the material also carries the Renault logo and the slogan ‘Renault. The safest car you can drive.’ The branding of such an important safety message with a corporate logo creates an unfair and unproven association in the minds of children.

In 2003 and 2004, McDonalds teamed up with the GAA to provide primary schools throughout the state with gaelic football and hurling equipment. All of the equipment provided carried the McDonalds logo. At a time when the issue of childhood obesity is being discussed as never before, associating sport with fast food in children’s minds beggars belief. In an interview at the time McDonalds Head of Operations was quoted as saying that while the scheme was “…designed to get more children involved in sport… we’re here to sell a product…” It was no coincidence of course that McDonalds sudden interest in getting children involved in sport coincided with a cut in government funding to schools for P.E. equipment. As the scheme’s evaluation on the Campaign for Commercial Free Education’s website says “In 2002 the Irish government suspended the P.E. equipment grant to schools. The following year P.E. equipment in 3,000 primary schools carried the logo of the largest fast food retailer in the world. McDonalds were, no doubt, “Lovin’ it”.”

Objecting

More and more teachers, parents and schools are objecting to this growing commercialisation and exploitation of schoolchildren. Objections are based on the fact that exploitative advertising should have no place on the school curriculum. Children in a classroom are a captive audience and for commercial advertising to be presented to them under the cover of education is exploitative and unethical. Many of these schemes also put huge pressure on parents to shop in particular stores. And of course they are obviously discriminatory towards schools in poorer areas. Why should whether or not your child has access to computers in school be dependent on how much money the parents in the school can afford to spend in Tescos? Education is a right which should be available to all children, and its quality should not depend on how much money you spend in a particular shop.

The Campaign for Commercial Free Education was established in 2005 to give a voice to teachers and parents who object to the growing commercialisation of schools. The Campaign’s website (http://www.commercialfreeeducation.com) provides evaluations of various commercial schemes currently operating in Irish schools and information on the issue, as well as support for teachers or parents who wish to take steps to make their schools ‘commercial free zones’.

If you are a teacher or parent who cares about this issue why not visit the website and arm yourself with the information which will empower you to go to your parents’ committee or staff meeting and propose that your school join the growing numbers of schools taking a stand on this issue.

Gregor Kerr
(member Irish National Teachers Organisation, and teacher in a ‘commercial free’ school – personal capacity)


This article is from Workers Solidarity No96, March April 2007

Download the PDF of Workers Solidarity 96

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