Guatemala: students resist education ‘reform’

An agent of Guatemala‘s National Civilian Police and two students were injured in a confrontation July 30 between riot police and students outside the Teachers School for Men in the south of Guatemala City; three students and a teacher were arrested for alleged attacks on security forces. The clash came after hundreds of students occupied eight schools, one in the capital and seven in other parts of the country, to protest proposed changes in the national teacher certification program. Security forces prevented the takeover of two other schools. Students also reportedly blocked various highways in the northern and northeastern parts of the country, but apparently without any confrontations with the police. (EFE, July 30)

The students were protesting plans by the government of right-wing president Otto Pérez Molina to expand the certification program for primary school teachers from three to five years and to require a university degree. The students argue that the teaching program is one of the few educational programs open to indigenous youth and other impoverished Guatemalans, and many of these students will be unable to afford two extra years of study and a university degree unless they receive a subsidy. Currently only 2% of the population have university degrees, and only 20% of the high school-age population attends high school. As in many other Latin American countries, the students suspect that the educational “reforms” are meant to open the way to privatization of public education. 

The students carried out similar occupations at the end of June and the beginning of July; these also ended in clashes with the police. In the following weeks, after mediation by legislators from Congress, the Education Ministry held meetings with various groups of students, teachers, parents, academics and specialists and heard 83 proposals. But the students remained opposed to the government’s plan. On July 26 they held a peaceful march in the capital from the Central America Teachers Institute (Inca) to the Education Ministry to demonstrate their continued opposition to the proposal and to the measures taken against students and teachers involved in the earlier protests. (Upside Down World, July 5; Americas Quarterly, July 7; Prensa Libre, Guatemala, July 26; EFE, July 30)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 5.