Teachers’ strikes: Thank you, Minister Parody

By bogotapost May 15, 2015
Colombian Teacher's Strike

Teachers are demanding wage increases, better health insurance, better classroom materials and equipment. Photo: Juan Gabriel Pineda

As the teachers’ strike continues, Juan Gabriel Pineda believes that Education Minister Gina Parody has allowed us to ask fundamental questions about the public school system

Much has been said about Education Minister Gina Parody in recent days. Widely criticised on social networks and in the media for her response to the teachers’ strike, she nonetheless deserves tribute, as there are few people like her.

Paradoxically, she has allowed us to question the fundamental role that education plays in building a nation, and thereby opened the debate about the need to create more spaces for dialogue and reflection on the educational practice: its stakeholders, strengths, weaknesses, and its relevance.

For quite some time now, teachers have had no real opportunity to take their classes to the streets, or to truly engage parents and families so that we can all begin to understand that schools are not day care centres, but rather centres of knowledge, talent laboratories and training grounds for life. It is easy to attribute all the problems of this country to education and the teachers who provide it, but in doing this, we overlook the unique role that education plays at the heart of economic, political, and cultural development.

Some understand the problems faced by teachers on a daily basis: the classrooms with 40 or more students, the limited resources, the mediocrity of automatic promotion policies disguised as permanent remedial measures, and the danger of superficial band aid-solutions to fundamental problems. Such band aids create complacency that allows the community to ignore problems of food or transportation or the challenge of using technology as a tool for learning – rather than for copying or falsifying. What’s more, high schools themselves are often battlegrounds; the intolerance and violence concentrated in educational institutions reflects the best and worst of the society that students are a part of.

Colombian Teacher's Strike

Monday April 27: Thousands of teachers marched in Bogota. Photo: Juan Gabriel Pineda

However, while some only see the negatives, several schools have moulded excellent professionals, principled workers, and exemplary citizens. It is no secret that some of the finest Latin American scientists, artists, writers, and thinkers are Colombians, who in many cases were trained in public schools and universities.

It is essential that we open the Pandora’s Box that is public education and come to see why the teachers’ strike is not just about a salary increase, but about improving the very conditions of the educational system.

Now is an opportunity for us to seriously review the guidelines defined by the Ministry of Education and evaluate the role of all stakeholders. Now is the time to rethink the importance of parental support in education, and it is time for the traditional ruling classes to once and for all understand that improving education and the way we think about our country is not a threat to the status quo, but rather an indispensable driving force behind development – if we want to be a nation that is competitive, developed, sustainable and happy.

Thank you, Minister, for without your intransigence none of these reflections would be possible and given the opportunity to be heard. May this moment not remain as mere words on a page; may we be successful in transforming Colombia’s public education system.

Read our news story for more information about the protests.

Juan Gabriel Pineda is a historian at the National University of Colombia, and the current head of the Master’s Degree in Education program at the University of La Sabana.

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