Public deliberation about education reform should take place in Congress and not in the streets, President Juan Manuel Santos said Wednesday, in response to nationwide student protests.
“The road to deliberation that establishes democracy is the Congress of the Republic and there discussions should be given and not in the streets, by way of protests and sometimes, sadly, through violence,” Santos said. “We emphatically reject the violent protests, because our students want better education but not violence.”
The president implored the students to return to class and end their education strike, which he claimed costs Colombians $5.7 million. “That is what Colombia and your families expect of you,” Santos added.
“This call for mobilization, made by few, threatens -and puts the semester at risk- almost 550,000 students of the public universities, the majority of whom are from low-income families that have placed high hopes that their children are professionals,” the head of state argued. “This strike can have tremendous personal, social, and economic costs for the country.”
Tens of thousands of students took to the streets in several Colombian cities Wednesday to protest against a planned reform of the country’s higher education.
According to local media, the march occurred largely without incidents, but did cause major traffic jams in Bogota and a disruption of the city’s mass transit system Transmilenio.
The march was the third of its kind to protest a government-proposed reform of public education. An estimated 500,000 students are on strike because of their opposition to the proposal.
The controversy is caused by the proposed changes to Law 30. According to the government, this law must be reformed to be able to increase the number of Colombians taking part in higher public education, but critics maintain that the law will deteriorate the quality of education and cause further financial problems for the already broke public universities.