Thousands of students have taken to the streets of Asuncion to present their list of “non-negotiable” demands to the Paraguayan Ministry of Education and Science for reforms that would increase spending in the education sector.
The National Federation of Secondary Students of Paraguay is demanding more budget infrastructure, nutritional supplement, support for technical high school students as well as access to higher technical equipment, among other things.
Carlos Colarte, spokesperson for the organization stated he felt confident the authorities would listen to their demands and “fulfill their role,” although, he added, that Fenaes is prepared to continue its protests if necessary.
Students sent a strong message to Minister of Education Enrique Riera as they embarked on the third large-scale mobilization in less than a week.
Paraguay invests 3.5 percent of its GDP in education, well below the minimum 7 percent projected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization worldwide.
According to Colarte, among the list of demands are higher salaries for teachers, government financial aid for technical instruments and reinforcement of nutritional supplement in schools around the country “totally and efficiently” and not limited to the government’s pilot plan.
Schools across the nation are in desperate need of renovations and better technology, Fenaes member Johana Romero said, adding that “there must be money for the most urgent matters.
“That was a point of controversy because some said: 'How are we going to have tablets and not ceilings?' But we will not accept tablets in schools that are falling apart because it is a matter of priorities,” Romero said, adding that for the state it may be cheaper to buy tablets than fix up debilitating schools.
Additionally, the demand for nutritional supplement is based on an article in Paraguay's Constitution which requires the government to promote meal programs and supply schools with the necessary supplies.
Students are taking the requirement a step further, demanding the state not just promote, but enforce guaranteed breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner for students at all schools and colleges in the country.
Last week, students held a 48-hour strike, with more than 120 schools marching through the streets, demanding the reforms.
"Too many failures exist in education, if we do not mobilize, we will not be heard," said Ruth Martinez, a spokeswoman for the National Union of Student Centers in Paraguay during other last week's protests.
Teachers held their own separate strike Thursday, demanding a salary increase of 32 percent.
The teachers rejected the proposal of the government of President Horacio Cartes of a gradual pay increase of 8 percent for people who have been working in education for more than 20 years. Those who have less seniority will only get 5 percent.