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Uruguay: Public education under threat

The new conservative government of Uruguay, that took office last March, has submitted a bill for urgent consideration (Ley de Urgente Consideración, or LUC) to Parliament that set off alarm bells amongst Uruguayan society for being deeply antidemocratic in form and substance. The urgent bill shows how the country is facing an onslaught of conservatism and privatisation and moving away from the democratic principles that have always defined public education in the country.

With the LUC, the Uruguayan executive is using special powers to bypass democratic discussion and avoid consultation of the education unions on a text that will substantially change the laws governing the public education system.

Sixty-seven of the LUC’s 502 articles concern the education sector. If approved, the reform would give significant powers to the Ministry of Education and limit teachers' participation in the educational decision-making process. It would also open the door to the involvement of private actors in the management of the education sector, whereas previously only teachers with ten years’ experience in public education could sit on the participation council.

In 2017, within the framework of its Global Response against the privatisation of education, Education International published a study which predicted the implementation of measures enabling public funding of the private sector and the introduction of school autonomy and accountability policies such as performance-related pay for teachers.

Indeed, the LUC foresees a new status for education workers that transfers decision-making power to school administrators, resulting in the fragmentation of the education system. Furthermore, the LUC would remove the existing provision in the Education Act that prohibits any agreement or treaty, whether bilateral or multilateral, with governments or international organisations that directly or indirectly encourages the commercialisation of education.

If adopted, these reforms would come into effect just when teachers and their unions need to play a leading role in helping children and students return to school following the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Education International and its member organisations stand in solidarity with affiliates in Uruguay - FENAPES, FUMTEP and CSEU – and call on the Uruguayan legislative authority to block this emergency reform which jeopardises the Uruguayan people's fundamental right to free, quality public education.