School’s out for protests

By bogotapost May 10, 2015
Colombia Teacher's Strike


  • Millions of students missing classes as teachers go on strike

  • Teachers demand wage increases, improvements in school facilities and a repeal of the annual evaluation process

  • ‘The government’s offer of raising salaries by 12 percent is generous’: Education Minister Gina Parody

The national teachers’ strike looks set to continue, after the latest round of talks between the government and the teachers’ union failed to come to an agreement on May 5. More than 350,000 elementary and high school teachers have been on an indefinite national strike since April 22, preventing about 9 million students from seeing the inside of a classroom for the past two weeks. The strike was sparked after initial negotiations, which had gone on for more than 50 days, broke down between the union – Colombian Federation of Educational Workers (Fecode) – and the Ministry of Labour. Teachers took to the streets throughout the country on Monday April 22, when more than 22,000 protesters in Bogota brought traffic to a standstill. The teachers were also out in force on May 1 to mark Labour Day. They are planning another mass march on Wednesday May 6, which will once again cause disruptions across the city. On Tuesday May 5, at the time of going to print, Fecode representatives and the government were trying to reach a deal to end the strike, while a few thousand teachers gathered in Bolivar Square in central Bogota, as did a few thousand more in other cities around Colombia. The teachers are demanding wage increases, better health insurance, more classroom resources, and better pension benefits for retired teachers. They also want to see an end to the annual teacher performance evaluations, the results of which determine whether a teacher can be promoted or teach a certain grade level. The government is not willing to budge on this last point. “Colombians cannot agree to remove teacher evaluations. The quality of education is not negotiable,” President Juan Manuel Santos tweeted. Regarding wages, the union claims that most teachers earn just over COP$1 million per month, with only a few reaching COP$2 million. The government has offered to raise wages by 12 percent over the next four years. Education Minister Gina Parody urged the teachers union to accept the offer on the table – for the sake of Colombia’s students. “The children can’t miss any more class, many eat their breakfast and lunch there. The government’s offer of raising salaries by 12 percent is generous,” she said in an interview with RCN News on Monday evening. School teacher Mariana Torres, 27, thinks the government is not treating Colombia’s educators fairly. “We’re doing this for them [the students] because they deserve a quality education,” Torres told The Bogota Post at the rally in Bolivar Square in central Bogota on May 1. “We are not getting paid during the strike and people are hurting.” She continued: “If the government can negotiate with the FARC in Cuba, why can’t they negotiate with the teachers here in Colombia?”

Read a column from a teacher to understand more about the protests.

By Mark Kennedy