Aug 23, 2013 in Politics
Mexico - Most of the 26 million Mexican students return to school this week but more than two million were forced to stay home as teachers in several areas launched strikes opposing changes to the public education system.
About 24,000 schools in five impoverished states in the south of Mexico remain closed as teachers strike. Among the chief demands is the cancellation of new federal regulations requiring teachers to take competency exams to be hired and retained. In the state of Tabasco half a million students will not go back to school as teachers demand the resignation of the state education minister.
About 20,000 strikers marched on the National Congress in Mexico City and have set up camp in the central plaza. Leaders say they will stay there indefinitely. Hundreds of strikers attempted to force their way into a session of the legislature voting on reforms and fought pitched battles with police, in which 22 officers were injured. A blockade by teachers on Wednesday forced senators and deputies to hold their session at a convention center. Leader of the largest teachers' union the CNTE, Francisco Bravo, said:
“Our demand is for them not to vote the laws, that they suspend the process and that we enter into negotiations that take the teachers' point of view into consideration".President Enrique Nieto persuaded the Mexican congress to pass sweeping educational reforms last December. This month legislation is being negotiated to implement the reforms.
As classes began in many schools and strikers entered the capital Nieto said:
"Education is the most powerful instrument for Mexicans to reach new and better opportunities in life."The striking teachers say they are simply scapegoats and that the real problems in Mexico's poorly performing public education system is years of underfunding and endemic corruption in the system. The strike leader Juan Ortega told the press:
"We want the whole national education system to be evaluated".While there are serious weaknesses in the Mexican system, the situation has vastly improved from a generation ago. Then, adults were fortunate if they were able to finish six years of grade school. Now almost every child fifteen years and younger is in school. However, the quality varies greatly and Mexico has the highest dropout rate of the 34 OECD member nations.
The head of the National Education Worker's Syndicate or SNTE, the largest teacher's union has been jailed on corruption charges. Somehow while supposedly living on her teacher and union salaries Gordillo managed to amass a fortune of millions of dollars during her more than two decades as head of the union. The strikes taking place now are being led by a rival union that is often more radical, the National Education Workers Coordinator. The fight against the reforms in southern Mexico has been ongoing all year. Teachers in the province of Guerrero attacked and burned government and party offices after the state legislators passed the reforms. Parents in Guerrero are setting up their own classes as thousands of teachers protesting a revamp of the country's education system have closed schools.
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