While university students in Chile have been protesting for education reform over the past year, not all student protests are similar, and Guatemala is a case in point. Yesterday, dozens of people, including students and even the Ministers of Education and of the Interior, were injured in clashes between police and protesting students. This is not the first time that student protests have been met with violence. A similar march in June ended when police used tear gas to break up a similar protest
Educational reforms are again at the heart of the protests, but unlike Chile, in Guatemala, students are protesting against the reforms:
Under the new plans, university courses for students studying to become primary school teachers will go up from three to five years.
Protests against the measure began more than two months ago, and still no agreement has been reached.
While the plans were initially drawn up three years ago, it is only under President Otto Pérez Molina’s administration [which was inaugurated at the beginning of this year] that they have been implemented. The reforms are to go into effect next year, and although the Ministry of Education denied that the reforms would hurt students or their families, the students clearly feel otherwise. Their antagonism does not just come from the fact that these are reforms imposed from the top-down; the addition of two years to their university education will have a very real impact on their own professional and financial lives as well, particularly given the context of higher education in Guatemala. Out of Guatemala’s twelve universities, eleven of them are private (with the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala as the country’s sole public university). Thus, adding two years to students’ study programs not only delays the time they begin working; it also means two more years of having to pay for a more expensive private education.
Thus, while Pérez Molina may have called for meetings to address the issue, and Minister of Education Cynthia del Águila has already signaled she will dialogue with students and parents over the reforms in order for classes to continue. Still, meetings do not mean an automatic agreement on or a resolution of the issues between students and the government. It will be curious to see how events in Guatemala play out in the coming months, and how they will compare and contrast to student movements in other parts of Latin America, including Chile and Mexico, where the election of Enrique Peña Nieto may only be the beginning of a new wave of student mobilization.