Noah Gimbel: I’m here in Madrid, Spain, where over 50 groups have come together to call for an education strike from preschool to the university, teachers, students and parents. The participation rate has been estimated at 80%. Protestors are calling for an end to the austerity measures that have hit the public education system.
As part of sweeping budget cuts begun by the Socialist party and intensified by the right-wing Popular Party elected into an absolute majority last November, the central government hopes to reduce spending on education by more than 10 billion Euros by 2015. That will bring education spending down to a 3.9% share of GDP, well below the European Union average of 5.5%.
In practice, the cuts will amount to increased hours for teachers and professors, up to a 50% increase in tuition for public universities, and a 20% increase in the maximum number of students per class. In primary education, the limit would rise from 25 to 30 students per class, and in secondary education from 30 to 36. For ‘non-obligatory’ secondary education – for students ages 16-18 – classrooms would be filled with up to 46 students.
The Socialist Party has estimated that the cuts would result in the elimination of 80,000 teaching jobs in obligatory public education around the country, and the labor unions have placed that number even higher.
Among the tens of thousands of protestors demonstrating against the cuts in downtown Madrid, a large number came representing the teaching profession.
Paloma Ramírez, a professor at the polytechnic university in Madrid, is a member of one of the leading teachers unions that called for the strike.
Paloma: We are principally concerned with protecting the public sector. We will not allow the dismantling of public resources in favor of privatization that doesn’t lead us to anything but speculation.
Gimbel: Javier, also a professor in Madrid, does not belong to a teachers’ union.
Javier: This strike is completely pertinent because the University, in this moment, along with the rest of the public education system, is in an impasse. It lacks a future, it lacks clarity in terms of administrational support for the basic instruments of the betterment of society.
Gimbel: And the repercussions of the cuts would be felt at all levels of public education. Carmen is a primary school teacher.
Carmen: The cuts to education would mean increasing the student-teacher ratio. The students would be poorly attended to; we won’t be able to meet their individual needs. The quality of public education, which is pretty good in Spain, would diminish.
Gimbel: But perhaps the most important element of the protest was the involvement of students, whose future in a country at the brink of economic collapse, with youth unemployment at over 50% and a childhood poverty rate of 26% is precarious at best.
Fidel: My name is Fidel González, I’m president of the Federation of Progressive Student Associations. We’ve prepared these mobilizations – May 10th and today, the 22nd – believing that the cuts approved by the government of the Popular Party, from the hand of [education minister] José Ignacio Wert, comprise a true dismantling of public education and the public university. We can’t permit the massive tuition hike such as the one they plan to impose for the university, and cuts that will cause over-filling of classrooms and leave many students unable to attend university.
Álvaro: I’m Álvaro Ferrer, president of the National Confederation of Student Associations. We’re here today protesting so that the government will rectify their policy of budget cuts, and their policy of unilateral decision-making without input from anyone from the educational community nor the universities. We understand that the measures they’re taking will affect the quality and equality of opportunities. This is the first of many protests to demand that they reverse this path, and if they don’t we’ll continue to protest.
Gimbel: Alba is a journalism student at la Universidad Complutense de Madrid.
Alba: For example I don’t have 3,000 Euros to keep studying next year. So in some form, they’re kicking us out, and they’re conditioning education so that it’s only for rich people that have access to that privilege. So we’re here defending public education and claiming our right to a future in this country. As things are going, we don’t have a future – no education and no jobs. In a way they’re kicking us out of the country.
Gimbel: A younger generation of high school students also participated in the strike.
Giraco: I came to protest for the importance of public education for many families, and many students who can’t afford private schools or charter schools.
Ana: They’re taking away our future, and these cuts are going to be terrible, and they’ll lead us nowhere. They need to support, they need to invest so that the public schools stay the best and so that all of us can have a good future.
Gimbel: And a number of parents, concerned with the education of their children, attended as well.
Francisco Garcia: The cuts would mean that the quality of my daughters’ education will get worse. They will have to share one professor with more students, they will have less time to enjoy learning, less time to speak English, less time to improve their knowledge in some subjects. With less time and less resources, the students and the parents will be forced to find an alternative in private schooling, and that’s what we don’t want.
Gimbel: At the close of the rally, representatives from the various groups involved in its planning called for an immediate end to the cuts in public education. But as the government moves forward with its austerity budget, it’s likely that this fight will continue.
For the Real News, I’m Noah Gimbel in Madrid, Spain.