WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Thousands of Poland's teachers and parents on Saturday protested the conservative government's plan to phase out middle schools that serve children between the ages of 12 and 16.
Organized by the teachers' union, the noisy protest in downtown Warsaw was another public show of discontent with the policies of Poland's year-old Law and Justice government. The organizers said about 50,000 people participated, while police estimated the crowd at 15,000.
Over the past year, Warsaw has seen repeated massive protests against various steps taken by the government, especially those which critics say undermine the rule of law.
The Education Ministry wants to do away with the country's three-year middle schools starting next year. The ministry says the middle schools do a poor job of educating students. It wants to go back to a system used under communism of eight-year primary schools followed by a four-year secondary school. That system was changed in 1999, when middle schools were introduced, also amid great objections that it would complicate the education process.
The protesters, joined by some local governors from across Poland, said they fear the loss of thousands of jobs, and argued that the new curriculum would have to be written in haste and would be poor quality. Some teachers say the reform is intended to add nationalist values to the curriculum in addition to facts from the past that are key for Law and Justice policy.
"School in Poland doesn't need destruction. It needs some wise changes," teacher Artur Sierawski said. "So we are saying 'no' to the elimination of the middle schools and to the prospect of mammoth schools."
The marchers said that middle schools have helped bring Poland's education up to European standards, while a reform of the system would be costly, taking tens of millions of zlotys from the strapped education budget.
"This reform is done in haste. It will bring nothing but chaos for our children," said Ewa Gniatkowska, a mother of a 10-year-old from Warsaw.
The protesters heaped pieces of chalk in front of the Parliament, to protest the draft law of the school reform and left a petition at President Andrzej Duda's office asking him to stop the reform.