Teachers blockade downtown Mexico City to protest education reforms they say is harmful to public schools
ANDALUSIA KNOLL, PRODUCER: Tens of thousands of public school teachers have taken to the streets in Mexico City in protest of secondary labor laws that follow educational reform that was implemented by the Mexican government in late February 2013. The educational reform would impose nationally standardized evaluations of teachers that would lead to their automatic firing if they don’t past three times. Mexican President Henrique Peña Nieto has maintained that this reform will improve the quality of public education in Mexico. On Monday, September 2, he gave a State of the Union address that had been postponed one day due to the protest.
ENRIQUE PEÑA NIETO, MEXICAN PRESIDENT (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): This is an important and transcendental step to improve the education of Mexican children and young people.
KNOLL: The majority of the striking teachers come from the southern state of Oaxaca and were involved in the large uprising in 2006. They have set up an encampment in the Zócalo, the main plaza in Mexico City. For the past two weeks, they have blockaded major avenues, government offices, and even the airport to demand negotiations with the government and changes to the educational reform.
Alfonso Arellano traveled from Oaxaca as part of Section 22 of the CNTE, or teachers union, to participate in the mobilizations.
ALFONSO ARELLANO, OAXACAN TEACHER, SECTION XXII (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We want articles 3 and 73 to be repealed. The current government, the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) government has wrongly called this education reform. But it is not education reform. It is a labor reform. Why? Because it goes after our rights as workers. Educational reform would be structural and related to the curriculum and would be directly related to the students. This wrongly called educational reform is changing constitutional articles and putting into risk all of the labor rights that historically the national magisterial and the national union (CNTE) has gained with 30 years of struggle.
KNOLL: Since the government approved the first parts of the reform in February, there have been constant protests against it. For various months in the southern state of Guerrero, teachers blocked major highways until they were met with police repression. Eventually, the government agreed to dialog with the teachers and held forums in eight states that culminated in a national forum. José Alfredo Martinez, an elementary school teacher from Oaxaca, participated in these forums but said that their point of view has not even been considered.
JOSÉ ALFREDO MARTINEZ, OAXACAN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The CNTE entered a work path to participate in 13 state forums, 13 states located across the republic to enrich the discussion and the proposals that we as CNTE were going to present to the federal government. Now the answer they give us is that these discussions that culminated in a national forum approximately one month ago was thrown out and they didn’t consider anything that was discussed. They didn’t take into consideration the opinions of the magisterial or the viewpoints of the society, parents, or educational specialists.
KNOLL: One of the major criticisms of the reform is the new evaluation system. Martinez says the mass media is painting the wrong picture.
MARTINEZ: We are demanding and are in agreement with an evaluation, but an evaluation that is not standardized or punitive, an evaluation that takes into account the social context in which we develop our educational practices. It is not possible that a student from the mountains of Oaxaca or Guerrero will receive the same standardized test as a child who lives in a large city like Monterrey or Guadalajara.
KNOLL: The majority of teachers who are mobilizing are from rural, largely indigenous areas in the south of Mexico. Ofelia Imelda Rivera explains the conditions in which he teaches in the isthmus of Oaxaca.
OFELIA IMELDA RIVERA CORTES, TEACHER, ISTHMUS OF TEHUANTEPEC (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): There are many communities where there is no electricity. Teachers have to walk one or two days just to arrive at the community. I worked in a community called La Jacoba, where to arrive I had to travel by truck to travel to the top just to arrive at the community, passing over mountains and crossing via a suspension bridge and crossing a river that in high tide reaches up to here. For example, they want to send Enciclomedia (digital learning) program to a community where there is no electricity. How will that work? Or a computer? The government’s proposals are on one hand very illogical.
KNOLL: Peña Nieto addressed this discrepancy in his presidential address.
PEÑA NIETO: A large part of those who are opposed to education reform come from states where the poverty, marginalization, and backwardness limit the life of the communities and the quality of teaching. To confront these unacceptable conditions, I will present to Congress in my budget proposal of 2014 a special program of support for learning in regions that are behind in their level of education.
KNOLL: The education reform passed back in February also mandates that English be taught as a second language. Sagrario Diaz traveled from the Mazateca region in Oaxaca and says this mandate ignores the reality of their communities.
SAGRARIO DIAZ, EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE, SECTION XII (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Many of us mobilizing come from First Peoples nations, what many people call indigenous communities. Got it? We speak two languages. One is our native language. In my case it is Mazateco. And my second language is Spanish. Now, with the reform, they are saying the second language will be English. So if my first language is Mazateca and my second is English, what happens with our national language?
KNOLL: Over the weekend, thousands more teachers arrived from the states of Michoacán and Chiapas. Together with the teachers of Oaxaca, Mexico City, and local students and activists, they took to the streets. There were hundreds of riot police present. And when the protest had nearly finished, they arrested various participants and at least four independent journalists who were recording and photographing the protest. Many of those arrested are still in government custody, with charges including attacks against the public peace.
While these protesters were in custody, the government voted to push through the secondary laws that are now awaiting the approval of the Senate.
The education reform also encourages more school autonomy, stating that parents need to risk take more responsibility for the schools. Teachers and critics have stated that this will pave the way for privatization, encouraging families to pay for the education of their children instead of the government. The teachers have connected President Peña Nieto’s desire to privatize Mexico’s national oil company, Pemex, to the education reform, saying they both invite transnational companies’ investment at the expense of Mexican citizens. Large mobilizations against the privatization of oil are scheduled for this weekend, and the teachers union has joined the call. The teachers have said that they will maintain their encampment in Zócalo and keep protesting and blockading major roads in the capital until the government reaches an agreement with them.
Andalusia Knoll, The Real News Network, Mexico City.
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