The Uruguayan president and Vice president have again openly clashed this time over education reform. First Lady and Senator Lucia Topolansky described Vice-president Danilo Astori’s comments on the issue as “negative” and praised the attitude of teachers’ unions involved in the reform effort.
“If we start by being negative, we won’t reach anywhere” said Senator Topolansky in reference to Astori’s comments warning about “people who are working to impede education agreements” in reference to the combative attitude of unions.
“We don’t know (if they want to block an agreement). We haven’t started to agree, this will happen as of Thursday, when negotiations are scheduled to begin”, said the First Lady who acts as a political spokesperson for President Mujica on sensitive issues.
The statements once again expose the differences inside the Uruguayan ruling coalition between the more political attitude of President Mujica and the more orthodox and less controversial stance of Astori and his followers who have control over the Economy ministry and the Treasury, but not on the Planning and Budget Office or the Development Corporation.
Members from both sides have repeatedly clashed over taxing policy, VAT reduction and the degree of government participation in a major infrastructure program. Now it is education’s time.
On Thursday Mujica is scheduled to meet with teachers’ unions and representatives from other political parties to discuss the country’s education policy.
Although primary school performance in Uruguay remains relatively acceptable, according to international standards from UN offices, secondary schooling has been deteriorating at an alarming rate with results considered “completely unacceptable”, a condition which is confirmed by the freshman generation tests in university.
Besides as chaos and inefficiency advances in government schooling, private institutions have proliferated and have become a booming industry.
Furthermore a close aid of President Mujica, political scientist Constanza Moreira recently monopolized headlines when stating that “education means basic literacy (reading and writing) and the objective is to flatten the education pyramid”.
Astori’s group fears that the teachers and staff unions could end up controlling education in Uruguay, which is already much outdated and out of tune with the modern emphasis on science and technology.
A recent UNESCO assessment of four government managed high schools in four different areas of Montevideo said that learning results by students and the level of retention achieved were considered “highly insufficient and worrisome”.
In spite of some positive teaching spirit and dedication students complain about the reiterated absences of teachers and frequent outbreaks of indiscipline.
Besides class groups are too big to help concentration and location facilities not encouraging.
“The heterogeneous background of students, characteristics and interests clash with an only curriculum in basic education for thousands of students. Most probably many of them need other opportunities of curricula that the system does not provide”, concludes the report.
On the bright side “a spirit of respect and dialogue among students; self regulation to contain incidents; leadership from school masters; personalized treatment of students and class dynamics with clear limits and linked to the knowledge of students”.