Teachers and students strike in Spain over education cuts
Government reform a throwback to right-wing dictatorship, protesters say
Students on strike shout slogans and walk the streets of Ciudad Universitaria yesterday in Madrid. Photograph: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images
Teachers and students across Spain staged a strike yesterday against cuts to the education sector and a government reform which they say is a throwback to the country’s right-wing dictatorship.
Yesterday’s nationwide action was part of a week of protests, as pre-school and primary school parents and staff joined their secondary school counterparts and university students who had taken to the streets on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“The government has got to realise once and for all that society is saying No,” said José Luis Pazos, of the Ceapa platform of parents of state schoolchildren.
Protesters staged street demonstrations in Spain’s main towns and cities, and schools in most parts of the country were affected by the strike. In Madrid, attendance was noticeably down in state schools and the city’s universities were unusually quiet.
There were a handful of violent incidents, such as in Valencia, where picketers scuffled with university employees who did go to work, but the protests were mainly peaceful. One of the slogans on banners read: “Education is freedom. Your fear is a weapon.”
The sector has lost an estimated €6.4 billion in spending since 2010, as the government has attempted to slash the public deficit. That austerity drive has seen 20,000 teachers laid off, facilities cut back and class sizes increase. In universities, qualifying for grants has become more difficult and matriculation rates have been hiked.
But in recent months, it is the planned reform of the sector by the government of Mariano Rajoy, which has become the main focus of resistance.
The “Wert Law”, as it is known, after education minister José Ignacio Wert, is due to be approved by the Cabinet today before almost certainly being approved by the government-controlled congress.
The Bill, the seventh education reform of Spain’s democratic era, includes increased emphasis on exam-based targets, putting underperforming children on course for a professional vocation earlier and limiting the use of the Catalan language in schools.
The minister says it will bring down Spain’s school drop-out rate, which at around 25 per cent is among the EU’s highest, and improve the country’s poor overall educational performance.
But critics say the law will lead to a two-tier system for pupils and schools, rewarding high achievers but punishing those who struggle. They also say the Catholic Church has had excessive influence on the curriculum, and warn that it is reminiscent of the authoritarian days of the Francisco Franco dictatorship.
Mr Wert has become a controversial figure and one demand yesterday was for his resignation. Ahead of this week’s actions he described the dispute over Spanish education as “a birthday party” in comparison to other countries that were seeing similar reforms.
Yesterday, his number two in the ministry, Monserrat Gomendio, accused striking teachers of taking to the streets because they wanted better salaries, rather than a better education system. Labelling the strike a failure, she thanked “parents, teachers and pupils who haven’t reacted to a series of demagogic, simplistic and, in many cases, offensive slogans that have nothing to do with the education reform”.