More than a dozen teachers continue the hunger strike which ended its first week yesterday. They are waiting for the Constitutional Court to grant a legal solution to their claim. The educators are demanding that reforms to the Education Act come into force, which include fair wages for their work. Today a big march is planned in Quito.
They talk or write on their cell phones to distract the hours. They are lying on mattresses mounted on wooden pallets, dressed in warm clothes and covered with blankets. These are the teachers, students, parents and leaders of the hunger strike called by the National Union of Educators to demand equal pay, as well as respect for all the reforms of the organic law on education. intercultural. Flags and banners cover the two canvas tents that house them.
Installed in a group in front of the Constitutional Court, they and they sometimes walk a few steps outside this space which remains fenced with security tapes, and which has strict protocols. Their body, which spends a lot of time lying down, needs to gain warmth.
From one of the uprights hangs a small amphora for donations, and there is a cardboard, handwritten, where one can read what they can receive; masks, water or panela. Vehicles circulate a few meters from the strikers, but almost no one honks or shows solidarity. For those of us watching from the outside, it’s a feeling akin to indolence.
When you ask those who remain on strike about President Lasso’s argument that there are not enough funds to cover the increase in teachers’ salaries, the argument is unanimous: the price of oil has gone up, and there There are enough funds to guarantee equal pay, as almost $600 million has been collected in taxes so far this year. According to the Constitution, education expenses must be covered by a permanent income.
“The government has presented a reform that aims to commercialize education”
Eight days ago, and after a kind of staging to install improvised furniture, they started the strike. A week later, 12 – women and men, of various ages – maintain this measure. The scenario is reminiscent of other similar ones, we are going through a period that seems to have brought back the past, not only due to the presence of the pandemic, but also due to a model of government that believes that it is better to reduce the size of the state to make it more efficient.
“The government has presented a reform of the organic law on higher education which only reforms 8 articles, but these 8 articles aim to privatize and commodify education”, says Nery Padilla, secretary of the Federation of University Students of Ecuador, one of the three people who interviewed mutantia.ch. “We, together with representatives of students, teachers and workers, have presented a 70-article reform proposal, because we understand the need for the university; because we are active players in it”.
“I worked in several educational institutions with a casual contract; I don’t have a definitive appointment because the Ministry of Education won’t allow us to win our game. The competitions are not open and they have us with tentative contracts. With the days we have been on hunger strike, we have managed to get the Constitutional Court to convene a public hearing for this May 12, which will be attended by those of us who have filed an amicus curiae. I also speak as a parent who pays for the repair of (school) infrastructure. We pay for the furniture, the change of sanitary batteries. In addition to all the expenses, for the gradual return to school after the pandemic, we put between 2 and 3 dollars to cover basic biosecurity measures, while the government must guarantee it. With the budget we are requesting, we would have the complete educational items and we could carry out our appointments. During the pandemic, thousands of teachers were fired and the Lasso government in its campaign proposal offered to return their jobs, and that did not happen. Among the colleagues present here, there are two graduates, who cannot find a job”.
“Hunger strike is the last thing we can do. From the university reality, we see a serious impact on higher education. Budget reduction is constantly appreciated. Meanwhile, in classrooms, there is a strong pattern of bullying and violence towards students with several cases being reported. This is why we call for the application of reforms, because this will defend children, adolescents and women. We are on the eighth day of the hunger strike, physically the body is already feeling the effects of not eating food; we had a few casualties; For example, last week our colleague Klever Hidalgo from UNE Pichincha suffered a health crisis. Many colleagues are also beginning to suffer the ravages: stomach aches and headaches are constant.
“The current moment in secondary and higher education is a moment of deterioration and crisis, and this has developed due to the indolence of governments that have generated progressive processes of budget cuts for the university and the system. education in general. It was not possible to guarantee that infrastructure and personnel were reduced. The teaching colleagues have a surplus of work. These conditions are antipedagogical and antididactic. At the university level, we see that at the moment in the virtual modality there are courses of 60, 70 or 80 students. The Central University of Ecuador increased its student population from 40 to 46,000 students. When returning face-to-face, this real impact will be noticed. For this reason, it is essential to maintain the requirement of a budget guaranteeing a minimum level of quality. What we observe is that the private university has a higher enrollment rate, because the process of entering the public university is standardized, meritocratic and elitist, and under these conditions, families see how their children can be educated, and we have the situation that they go into debt and make efforts to educate their children. We can clearly see that the private university has been strengthened, when we see the positions occupied by these universities (in the ranking). Why is the first university not the Central University, as it was historically? This is because there is a gradual erosion of the public university.
Text: Mauricio Velasco
Main photo: Lying down to rest and save energy for what is to come: teachers from different fields during their hunger strike last week in front of the Constitutional Court in Quito (Daniela Beltran).
Editing and production: Martu Lasso & Romano Paganini
Web and Digital Networks: Maria Caridad Villacis & Victoria Jaramillo