Panama’s Teachers Discuss Whether to Return to Classes

In the negotiations with the different protesting sectors and the government, they reach an agreement on the subject of education. The government commits to comply with 6% of GDP in 2024. Photo: Ismael Gordon | La Estrella de Panama

The 6% for Education commitment arose at the Penonome dialogue in central Panamá. Educators will now analyze with their members the possible ending of their strike, which has been going on for four weeks.

By Ismael Gordon Guerrel (La Estrella de Panama)

HAVANA TIMES – The social sectors and the Government reached agreements on point four of the single dialogue table, which calls for 6% of the Gross Domestic Product for education.

A return to public school classes, is now expected to be this week, after the leaders, in an assembly with their members, make a decision based on the progress that has been made at the dialogue table.

The government promised to apply a gradual increase in GDP with an equitable distribution and to strengthen the quality of education at the primary and secondary school level.

GDP projections are made based on official information from the Comptroller’s Institute of Statistics and Census.

The current administration promised to apply 5.5% of GDP for Education in the budget for fiscal year 2023, which arrived this week at the National Assembly. By 2024, they promised to apply 6% of GDP.

This proposal is based on an estimate of GDP growth of 5% for the years 2022 and 2023.

The unions and other social groups at the negotiation table asked the Ministry of Education to comply with 6% of GDP, guarantee the supply of water and decent bathrooms at public schools and put school cafeterias into operation, as well as boarding schools throughout the country, where necessary.

In addition, they asked to equip the laboratories of physics, chemistry, biology, natural sciences, social sciences, languages, technology, commerce, and tourism.

The Ministry of Education committed to promoting a bilingual intercultural education, equipping laboratories and furniture. It also promised the scaling up of the project for the installation of water including reserve tanks, preventive maintenance of the infrastructures and the culmination of school infrastructure projects in progress and others planned.

The parties agreed to set up an educational table with the key persons of the sector to strengthen the roadmap outlined in the commitment to dialogue for education, in the 2019-2024 strategic plan and the consensus generated on education in the Bicentennial Pact.

Within the table, the parties will follow up on the agreements to eradicate 1,200 existing ranch schools in the national geography, build, rebuild and repair educational centers, as well as implement sports spaces.

It was proposed to eliminate the bureaucracy of the Equity and Quality Education Fund to make its use more efficient, establishing a commission to reduce the bureaucratization of these processes.

Likewise, the creation of a purchase and contracting model was agreed on to replace the Panama Purchase system, considered a system that has drained school resources with expensive and low-quality purchases.

With this agreement, teachers must now go to their members to consider ending their strike which has been going for four weeks.

Leaders of the United People for Life Alliance, the National Alliance of Organized People (Anadepo), members of groups from the Ngäbe Buglé region and peasant communities participate in the talks with the government.

President Cortizo assigned the Minister of Labor, Doris Zapata, as the Executive’s technical liaison at the table.

The social sectors, the Government and the Catholic Church —as a facilitator— decided to take a break at the single dialogue table where thus far four of the eight demands of the protesting groups have been addressed with partial consensus results.

The recess began Saturday night once the issues were addressed of discounting and supplying medicines, without privatizing, in the Social Security Fund and the Ministry of Health, as well as the demand point that the law stating that 6% of the GDP for Education be complied with.

While ironing out the partial disagreements on the earlier demand points continues, next up is the price of electricity.

When the talks began on July 21, eight demands were detailed for discussion.

  1. A lowering of basic food prices without affecting producers. (Consensus reached on the key issues with 72 products to be reduced by 30%)
  2. A lowering and freeze on fuel prices. (Partial consensus reached with gasoline lowered to $3.25 a gallon from %5.25)
  3. Supplying the Ministry of Health and Social Security pharmacies with sufficient medicines and lowering their price, without privatizing them. (Several commitments made to expand availability and lower prices.)
  4. Complying with a mandate for 6% of the PIB to be earmarked to Education (Commitments made to reach the 6% by 2024.)
  5. Lowering the price of electricity
  6. A discussion on Social Security Fund issues.
  7. Addressing corruption and transparency
  8. Establishing a multi-sector mechanism for follow up

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