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Labor unions take to the streets to protest new government policies; expect demonstrations to continue

If the political demonstrations in downtown Cuenca have disturbed your walking or driving routes in recent weeks, you  have President Rafeal Correa to thank. The administration has angered some of the countries largest labor unions, whose members are taking to the streets to protest. Although the demonstrations are peaceful, they have forced the police to divert traffic on several occasions.

Two weeks ago, it was a consortium of unions protesting a presidential and congressional decree ending some guarantees under old collective bargaining rules. According to the government, the rules were the result of labor conditions that no longer exist that were detrimental to the national interest. According to Correa, many of the privileges given unions were provided by previous governments and were intended to garner union votes.

Last week, it was the national teachers union protesting new competency tests that the government claims are necessary to improve public education in Ecuador. The reform of the educational system has been a goal of the current government, and now it has its sights on the performance of the public school teachers across the country. The executive branch signed a new law requiring all teachers to be evaluated during the week of May 25. However, the National Teachers Union (UNE) is resisting and urged its members not to take the test. Only a small percentage of the teaching ranks showed up to complete the evaluation.

David Guamba of Ecuador Noticias explains what the evaluation consists of and wonders what the teachers are afraid of: “According to the minister, Raul Vallejo, there will be two types of evaluations: internal and external, Guamba says. “The internal will be performed by colleagues, supervisors, students, parents, and the teachers themselves (self-evaluation), and it also includes an observation of one hour of class. All these evaluations account for 50 percent of the rating. There is also an external evaluation, which involves testing on specific knowledge that will have a weight of 30 percent, evidence of pedagogical skills that will weigh 10 percent, and a teaching skills test that will have a weight of 10 percent of the total score.

“Teachers who obtain a final assessment more than 90 per cent (excellent) will have access to scholarships or internships, they will be instructors in teaching training programs, and will receive an economic stimulus of $ 1,200 each year until the new assessment takes place, which will be after four years.”

Teachers that do not pass the first evaluation will be required to take a year of training after which they will be given the opportunity to re-take the evaluation. Only then, if he or she does not pass, will the teacher be terminated from the teaching post.

Belem Proaño of Temas Para Debatir agrees that refusing to be evaluated has a negative impact on the teachers and that the opposition is being seen as “resistance to change,” which is something that the country is going through: ”Education is a very sensitive topic within the society because it is related to their future,” Belem says. “If the teachers refuse to be evaluated, as pressured by their union, they face a mediocre image in front of their fellow citizens. This is a subject much talked about in the country, but everything has remained controversial.

“Personally, I think that no professional should be afraid of evaluation because evaluations are not repressions, but rather an instrument that allows for knowing the reality of education. With those measures, the planning will be more exact or less prone to error.”

While support for the evaluation is widespread, there is still some sympathy for teachers across the country. Columnist Fernando Balseca of El Universo says that the government is forgetting that teachers are underpaid and that the country has never had an Education Minister who has come from the classroom. He also notes that it is ironic that the officials leading the charge on the evaluation have come from the same schools and even taught by some of the same teachers that are now threatened with dismissal if they do not take the evaluation.

The arguments will, no doubt, continue on both sides. In the meantime protests in Cuenca and around the country will continue.

Credit: part of this report is courtesy of the website, Global Voices Online, http://globalvoicesonline.org; photo caption: Teachers take to the streets to protest government competency testing program