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Volume 18, Number 2
March 5, 2012

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economy

Also in this section:
2012 school year gets underway, with problems but no strikes
Another Martinelli family interest in the Tabasara River dispute
Economists on capital controls and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
The Panama connection in Spain's royal embezzlement scandal
Barbadian labor leader Toni Moore on the rights of domestic workers
Boiling point: A survey of water policy in the Americas (Part I)
The Ngabe-Bugle Comarca gets its own online newspaper
Now you need a pay card to get on the Metro Buses
Locals versus loggers and land invaders in Alto Bayano
Main canal expansion contractor Sacyr Vallehermoso's slide into junk stock status
Free trade and pig farming
Shadowlands: Greenpeace photos of Japan's nuclear ghost towns
The bitter taste of Brazil's World Cup

School year starts with bickering, less chaos than in most recent years

No strike this year

by Eric Jackson

On February 27 the 2012 Panamanian school year began with charges and counter-charges between the Ministry of Education and the teachers' unions but without the strike that might have appeared to be inevitable by the heated rhetoric. About 30 school buildings were still undergoing renovations and not entirely usable on the first day, which is serious enough for the students, faculty and parents involved but fewer than at the start of the past several school years. One school building in Tocumen was just fine --- except that there were no desks or chairs for the students or teachers, which Vice Minister of Education Mirna de Crespo blamed on the school's principal. In the metro area, less than two weeks earlier the Metro Bus system converted to payment cards instead of coins, with the students having been promised that they would get free cards --- but these were not available and it caused problems for many kids getting to school on the first day. In the Ngabe-Bugle Comarca, many schools did not open because public schools were used to house riot police and public school buses were used to transport riot police, so the schools were treated as something akin to enemy territory.

The transportation, desks and building renovations are all being muddled through, and made-in-Asia book bags have been distributed to most of the kids. Ngabe-Bugle General Cacique Silvia Carrera is opposing a school boycott and with each day attendance at schools in the comarca grows. Classes are underway, but uneasily due to several ongoing arguments:

  • Less than a week before the school year began, Minister of Education Lucy Molinar announced longer class sessions. In the terse way that it was announced, it held both the promise and the threat of longer school days for students and teachers, without hiring more teachers or paying for the extra hours of work. Many critics of Panama's horrible education were aghast at something like this being announced less than one week in advance, but pleased that more hours of instruction was a move in the right direction. But it turned out that the change just means that a class that meets twice a week for 35 minutes will be held once a week for an hour, and so on. That clarification had some of the unions pointing out that it adds up to less class time for kids. For Yadira Pino, the secretary general of the Veraguas Educators Association (AEVE), it was just last-minute improvised tinkering that doesn't address what she sees as the main education deficit issue, a dropout rate of around half of all students, who never finish secondary school.

  • On February 27, the Ministry of Education dramatically announced that it had uncovered a ring that was improperly manipulating teacher assignments, including by appointing teachers with fake degrees. The unions claimed that in the first place, if this sort of corruption exists it is a management problem at the ministry level; and second, they suspect that the charge is a ploy to eliminate teacher representatives from the nominating boards and replace it with an online system that allows centralized political patronage hiring of teachers. The matter has been referred to prosecutors, but so far no charges have been made public and no individuals have been identified as suspects. It has been announced, however, that the alleged scam involves regional teacher nominating boards in Veraguas, Cocle, Los Santos and San Miguelito.

  • Both teachers and management acknowledge that the schools are failing, that 15-year-olds taking international tests score near the lowest in the world in mathematics, science and language skills. Management policies of emphasizing these core subjects meets with labor objections that this is just a budget cutting plan under which kids would not be taught Panama's history or culture, let alone any modern notion of civics. The government's response to the scandalously low test scores has been to withdraw Panama from the testing program, a move that has drawn jeers from the teachers.

Despite these contentious issues and the lack of contracts arrived at by a collective bargaining process, the teachers' unions have decided that now is not the time to strike. There are several sets of complicated calculations involved in the decision --- a different set for each union --- but it appears that the teachers do not care to give an unpopular government the opportunity to portray them as selfish bureaucrats who are disrupting kids' education.







   
 

Also in this section:
2012 school year gets underway, with problems but no strikes
Another Martinelli family interest in the Tabasara River dispute
Economists on capital controls and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
The Panama connection in Spain's royal embezzlement scandal
Barbadian labor leader Toni Moore on the rights of domestic workers
Boiling point: A survey of water policy in the Americas (Part I)
The Ngabe-Bugle Comarca gets its own online newspaper
Now you need a pay card to get on the Metro Buses
Locals versus loggers and land invaders in Alto Bayano
Main canal expansion contractor Sacyr Vallehermoso's slide into junk stock status
Free trade and pig farming
Shadowlands: Greenpeace photos of Japan's nuclear ghost towns
The bitter taste of Brazil's World Cup




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© 2012 by Eric Jackson
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