Teachers launch boycott of STEM programs funded by weapons companies

Teachers launch boycott of STEM programs funded by weapons companies

In Victoria, a union members' boycott is about to take effect on all school STEM programs sponsored by weapons companies in an effort to raise awareness about “inappropriate organisations” working with schools and to promote peace.

Links between weapons manufacturers and educational institutions and programs are coming under increased scrutiny as the wars in Europe and the Middle East escalate and China warns that the AUKUS pact will only destabilise the already precarious geopolitical situation in the South China Sea.

Peace advocates say that while major weapons manufacturers facilitate crucial hands-on training and skills in STEM for millions of young people worldwide, they are also instrumental in perpetuating wars which have the potential to escalate into a global conflict and bring those same young people untold harm.

On Sunday, teachers, parents, students and community members gathered outside the Victorian Education Department building for the launch of the union members' ban, and the commencement of “Palestine in Our Classrooms” following a planned Free Palestine rally.

Speakers at the rally included Isaak Bovell, Australian Education Union Sub Branch Representative, Teachers and School Staff for Palestine Organising Committee, Nader, a year 6 Palestinian student at a public primary school, and Dr Jenny Grounds, the treasurer of Medical Association for Prevention of War Australia and director of Quit Nukes.

Members of the LaTrobe/Plenty, Broadmeadows, Maribyrnong, Inner West and Inner City regions of the Australian Education Union are commencing the ban on dozens of STEM programs from Tuesday 5 March – the United Nations’ International Day for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Awareness. Other regions and sub branches will be debating motions to support the ban at union meetings scheduled throughout March.

“The Victorian Education Department is allowing weapons companies, including Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, RTX [formerly Raytheon], Northrop Grumman and Boeing to run STEM programs in Victorian schools,” Lucy Honan, member of Teachers and School Staff for Palestine said.

“These are the weapons companies Israel is relying on to commit genocide in Gaza.”

In Victoria, companies involved in the sale or promotion of weapons have been added to the list of “inappropriate organisations” in the Teaching and Learning Resources – Selecting Appropriate Materials policy, while in NSW, the Commercial Arrangements, Sponsorship and Donations policy has been updated to add “weapons manufacturers” to the list of excluded organisations.

There have also been encouraging changes in Queensland, where the Sponsorship policy has been amended to include organisations “involved in the manufacturing or selling of weapons” to the list of unacceptable sponsor organisations. These changes put weapons companies on par with industries like tobacco, alcohol, gambling and junk food.

Elspeth Blunt, a member of Teachers for Palestine and Australian Education Union Sub Branch Representative, said Victorian Education Minister Ben Carroll and the Department of Education “repeatedly and publicly” warn teachers and school staff against expressing solidarity with Palestinians.

“They falsely suggest that teaching about Palestinian human rights is outside of the curriculum parameters and in breach of the Code of Conduct,” Blunt said.

“However, there have been no public announcements, or notifications to school staff that STEM programs like First LEGO League, Code Quest, National Youth Science Forum and up to 30 other programs, breach the Teaching and Learning Resources Policy.”

Blunt said consolidating the connection between the defence industry and school students is an “open agenda” of both the Victorian and Federal governments.

“There are clear links between our own Education Minister, the Israeli Defence ministry and Israeli arms manufacturers.”

Isaak Bovell, a member of Teachers for Palestine and Australian Education Union Sub Branch Representative, said Teachers and School Staff for Palestine will also launch, and begin to use classroom resources that “bring the voices, history and rights of Palestinians into our classrooms.”

Teachers for Peace, a national network of educators and academics, endorses the ban.

“The global arms industry uses partnerships with STEM education programs to sanitise their image and influence young people’s attitudes to the proliferation of weapons” Elise West, Director of Teachers for Peace, said.

“The participation of weapons companies in education is a barrier to progress towards disarmament, preventing and ending war, and stopping the immense human suffering caused by weapons.”

Bovell said while several Australian states and territories have recognised that these companies create significant social harm, and should not be able to influence children, many Australian STEM programs continue to partner with and promote the industry.

“This ban on participation is a powerful way to send an important message: companies that profit from war in Gaza and beyond have no place in education.”