In the light of the economic crisis faced by a large number of families due to the COVID-19 pandemic, high school and university students as well as peasants of Paraguay are demanding a greater budget for the public education sector. They are also demanding that the national government pass the bill that prohibits charging tuition fees in public universities and implement it on the national level and on a permanent basis.
On August 24, students and peasants’ organizations such as the National Federation of Secondary Students (FENAES), the Coordinator of University Students of the National University of Asuncion (CEUNA), the National Intersectorial Coordinator (CNI) -a platform that brings together several peasant organizations- and the Peasant, Indigenous and Popular Organization (ACIP), held a press conference and called on the citizens to support their struggle and join the massive mobilization in the capital, Asunción, on August 26.
Both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate approved said bill in general in the past months. On August 26, the Chamber of Deputies will discuss and debate on the legislation’s articles. The protesting sectors demand that the law be approved in such a way that it reaches everyone, especially the most vulnerable population, who cannot afford higher education as well as those who drop out due to the lack of economic resources.
The FENAES, in an official statement, denounced that “currently Paraguay is among the countries with the least investment in education at the regional level,” and that because of the “terrible academic conditions”, there is “a low level of learning.”
The students demand that the right-wing government of President Mario Abdo Benítez gradually increase the budget for education, which is currently 3.7% of the country’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP), until reaching 7% of the GDP, which is the minimum investment recommended by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for the education sector.
In addition, they demand an increase in the amount of the free fund (resources sent by the government to public educational institutions), the establishment of funds for school meals, modern computing technologies and the equipment, supplies and tools for technical schools.
The FENAES announced to mobilize for an indefinite period of time until the said demands are achieved. The federation informed that it had previously presented these demands for an increase in investment to the Ministry of Finance, but they were not taken into account.
Yesterday, a group of students and citizens demonstrated outside finance minister Benigno Lopez’s residence for opposing zero tuition fees law and promoting cuts in the education sector. Protests are expected to be carried out today as well.
This article was first published in Peoples Dispatch.