Education International
Education International

Colombia: Employment and rights at heart of union activity

published 18 February 2013 updated 19 February 2013

On 6 February, EI’s affiliate, Federación Colombiana de Educadores (FECODE), organised a demonstration calling for free public education, respect for the teaching profession, and quality health services for teachers. More than 6,000 demonstrators marched through the capital, Bogotá, to demand an end to the privatisation of education covertly promoted by central government.

“They insist on taking pupils out of public institutions and sending them to private institutions they have called grant-maintained or covenant schools,” said Senén Niño, president of FECODE and EI’s Executive Board member.

Niño revealed that under this grant-maintained model, public funds have been used to support many private schools, resulting in the loss of 30,000 teaching jobs in the last 15 years and displacing over 40,000 children from state-run schools to private colleges.

The quality of education at riskFECODE is also calling for respect for the teaching profession and is opposed to increases in the ratio of children per teacher.

In recent years, the trend towards higher numbers in the state-run schools, with an average of 40 pupils per teacher, has led to the loss of 50,000 teaching jobs. “This is driving down the quality of education, and adding to the teachers’ workload,” stated Niño.

“At the same time, we are asking for allocated teaching hours, that is to say the number of classes the teacher should teach in a week, to be respected,” he added.

Social and health protectionIn Colombia, there has also been a steady deterioration in the health services provided for teachers in recent years, which is why quality health care was one of the central demands of the demonstrators.

“Our healthcare budget isn’t adequate,” pointed out Niño. “Furthermore, we need a supervisory system to ensure that private healthcare providers fulfil the commitments made in their contracts.”

A single statute for the teaching professionThe thousands of educators who marched were also calling for a single statute for the teaching profession, one of FECODE’s strongest strategic demands in recent years.

Colombia’s teaching profession is currently split into two categories based on two different professional statutes - Statute Number 2277 dating from 1979 and Statute Number 1278 from 2002 - with the latter granting teachers entering the profession fewer fundamental rights.

FECODE is struggling to merge the two into a single new statute that will substantially improve the training and working conditions of educators in Colombia.

This and other strategic issues for the Colombian teaching profession will be debated at FECODE’s forthcoming Congress on 4-7 March.