EDUCATION IN CONFLICT

Thousands abandon classrooms to join second education strike in 12 months

Teachers and students protest cuts and proposed reforms in 30 cities Labor unions put turnout at 72 percent; government says below 20 percent

A demonstration  in Valladolid against the government's proposed education reforms.
A demonstration in Valladolid against the government's proposed education reforms.Nacho Gallego / EFE

Thousands of teachers and students abandoned their kindergartens, schools and universities across Spain on Thursday to join the second general education strike in a year to protest spending cuts, as well as an education reform due to be presented to the Cabinet on Friday.

The Platform for Public Schooling, which unites the FETE-UGT, CCOO and STES labor unions plus the CEAPA parents association and the Students Union, put turnout at 72 percent among staff at public institutions and 25 percent in the private sector. The Ministry of Education, however, reported a following of below 20 percent, according to data compiled by the regions.

The Students Union said 90 percent of university-goers followed the strike.

At the last general education strike in May 2012 the unions reported a 65 percent following, while the government put it at 19 percent.

“What we are seeing is that educational activity has been paralyzed,” said Francisco García of the CCOO.

Thursday’s strike is the culmination of two weeks of protests that have seen hundreds of lock-ins, vigils and all manner of other mobilizations at education centers across the country.

The day concluded with demonstrations in Madrid, where thousands took to the Paseo del Prado, and numerous other cities, though there had also been large protests in Galicia, Valencia, Murcia and Barcelona earlier on. In the Catalan capital, city police put the number of people who joined a march that left Plaza Universidad at 12.30pm and finished at Plaza Sant Jaume two hours later at 10,000; labor unions reported 100,000.

Some altercations with police were reported throughout the day. In Valencia two local police offers were slightly injured in a clash with a group of students who were trying to set fire to dumpsters and tires on Tarongers avenue, as well as block the train line.

Uniting many protesting teachers, students and parents on Thursday was the feeling that both the cuts – which have totaled 6.7 billion euros since 2010 - and Education Minister José Ignacio Wert’s proposed reforms were dismantling a certain concept of public education as something that includes and helps everyone, regardless of their social class.

“[I am here] because I don’t want everything that I chose for my child dismantled, because I sincerely believe that the quality is in public teaching, and many of us choose it because we believe in it,” explained Paz Martínez, a civil servant and mother of a 15-year-old, outside the gates of the San Isidro public high school in Madrid early Thursday.

The government says the reforms — which include the bringing forward of the age at which students start choosing between academic or vocational training paths, the reinforcing of core subjects and establishing external examinations — will decrease high-school dropout rates. But a large proportion of the education sector sees the changes as the other side of the cuts, serving to create a cheaper and elitist system that segregates poorer students.