The exclusive model of education rules in Colombia. More than 3 million children and young people are outside the school system and now, with new legislation known as Law 012, the education budget will be cut even more. The expected result is that there will be 1,416,000 less school places.
One important factor in being able to combat the privatisation policy is the unity of the teachers, parents, workers and other sectors of the population. Only in this way will we be able to make full use of our forces and make it possible to win this fight, which in the end is a class struggle. It is important also to clarify what differentiates the United Kingdom and Colombia. In the UK, public education is free. Colombians have to pay school fees. At primary level these are about £10 to £15 for annual matriculation, and at secondary schools the fees are £17 annually to matriculate plus another £17 a month. These charges go up every year. Other factors such as unemployment have triggered a reduction in school attendance of some 45%. And this is without taking private education into account, where schools have had to do promotions where the matriculation fee is not paid, just the monthly fee. The government argues that there is a fiscal crisis. The real cause of this is the application of the neoliberal model and the imperialist policy called the "Economic Opening". So now they are trying to hive off the regional budgets for education and health.
The first privatisation wave
This is not the first wave of trying to privatise the education sector. Privatisation as a government policy started to impose itself on the regions in the 1980s, principally in public services, health and education. In the Cauca Valley, and in particular in Yumbo, where through fierce resistance from the trade union and with the support of the population in general, we managed to defeat the privatisation of education after 10 months of hard struggle. We combined marches, demonstrations, non-violent occupations, hunger strikes and work stoppages. Sadly of those of us leading this struggle, some have been assassinated, others have been obliged to move away to another part of the country or outside it, and yet others have joined up with the armed struggle.
I remember that in just 3 months (January, February, March) in 1992, 250 teachers were assassinated in Colombia, the majority of them in the Cauca Valley. Many of them were assassinated while they were in the classroom teaching. From that time (the first occasion that I left my country for security reasons) up to now there have been innumerable educators assassinated and disappeared, let alone displaced.
The Current Scene, Imposition of Law 012…
Territorial transfers are the taxes collected by the Municipalites, which are then in turn passed onto to the national state for redistribution to the different regions, according to their population. Through Legislative Act 012 these transfers will be modified, increasing the percentage that goes to the Armed Forces (Plan Colombia) and cutting the percentage for Education and Health.
Educators through their professional union FECODE (Colombia Educators Federation) responded with a 48-hour stoppage on 9th and 10th of May, and again from the 15th May to 19th June when the nefarious law was approved. The only amendment was a minor increase from 9.2 billion pesos to 10.3 billion for the regions.
Pensions have been frozen in Yumbo as in other places, because there is no money to pay them. In this case teachers who have completed their service or reached retirement age have preferred to keep on working rather than retire without a penny. In Yumbo 16 years ago the union had managed to secure the right of retirement for teachers and other education workers after 20 years of service, whatever their age. Now this gain is being reversed, and more than 50% of the teachers who were union members have resigned, weakening union organisation. So now the retirement age is back up to 65 years old for men and 60 years for women.
Salaries in Yumbo are the best in the country. Between the first and fifth categories on the Teachers Scale, a teacher in Yumbo earns £224 a month. Pay at the sixth rung pays £240 monthly, and the seventh (for teachers who are graduates) £272. The teachers Scale rises up to the 14th category, the highest which pays £640 a month. A teacher who has reached this level would be very privileged. The majority of teachers are between the first and sixth categories.
…Reinforced by Law 60
The government’s hard blow against education goes beyond Law 012. It has initiated a debate to dismantle the Teachers Statute, trying to change its essence in fundamental ways for teachers, such as:
- Modification of the Teachers Scale, reducing the categories from 14 down to 3: i) Elementary Teachers, trained in teachers colleges ii) Graduate Teachers, from universities iii) PostgraduateTeachers, with a postgraduate award.
- With this new system teachers salaries will be diminished and they will lose employment rights.
- Head teachers will be appointed by local mayors (not for their capacities) for a 4-year period, and these will appoint their teaching staff.
- Teacher appointments will be for a fixed term of 10 months, at the end of which their contract will be confirmed or they will be sacked.
- An Integral Salary will be implemented, but this will not follow the cost of living.
They are trying to do away with the gains that teachers made through arduous struggles, and with the fixed term contract system they are going to break collective agreements. On the other hand when the economic funds are exhausted, neither the national government nor the local mayors are going to back education, and it will be the teachers and the parents who will have to carry the costs of educating their children.
When they lose their rights as workers, the teachers who call for civil disobedience will be sacked or their contracts will not be renewed. Or the new Security Statute will be applied to them, and they will be judged by the military.
Laws 012 and 60 are a clear demonstration of the advance of Plan Colombia as a plan of war against the insurgency, and now against health and education workers also. The long list of teachers disappeared, massacred or forced to leave the country by the paramilitaries. Now they want to take away the capacity to struggle, to organise and mobilise the people in defence of public education.
In this situation which is ever more critical, and with the most flagrant violations of human rights led by State terrorism, you can see that our tranquillity in the UK is affected by the possibility of an eventual return. It is obvious that the conditions, much less the security guarantees, do not exist for repatriation and even though the Home Office continues to deny our petitions for asylum in massive numbers, it does so knowing that our return means death at the hands of the paramilitaries. Down with decree 012! Down with law 60! No to dismantling the Teachers statute! Defend Public Education! No to Plan Colombia! Yankees out of Colombia!
Diego Salas, teacher