'Cup is not just full, but overflowing': thousands of teachers strike in Brussels

'Cup is not just full, but overflowing': thousands of teachers strike in Brussels
Credit Belga

Today (Thursday), Francophone teachers – from kindergarten to university – are taking to the streets in Brussels to protest the "devaluation" of their profession by politicians, and by society as a whole.

Two years of struggling with school closures, distance learning and quarantines, as well as upcoming reforms to the education sector have resulted in a lot of frustration and anxiety among education staff in Wallonia and French-speaking schools in Brussels.

"Our cup was full already, and the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to it. Now, it is not just full, it is overflowing. It is a feeling that has been there for a long time, but it was exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis," Jérôme Van Styvendael, a history teacher at the Athénée Royal in Nivelles since 2003, told RTBF.

'Pressure cooker is exploding'

He stressed that "an accumulation" of issues – such as administrative overload, class size, the state of school buildings, staff shortages – has led to this protest, and "today, the pressure cooker is exploding."

"Other sectors, such as the healthcare workers, are also concerned and they are making this known. Now, we also decided to take action. This has not happened for a long time," Van Styvendael added.

All of this, on top of the continuing coronavirus crisis and the ever-changing rules for schools that brings with it, weighs heavy on the morale of those in the teaching profession, explained the director of the CEPES school of Jodoigne Marie-Louise Houart.

"Education has to improve," she said on Francophone radio on Thursday morning. "We have to give teachers and pupils new teaching methods. The students we have in front of us today are not the same as they were 10 years ago and certainly not the same as they were 20 years ago."

"Every teacher is concerned about the well-being of the students," Houart said, adding that the upcoming reforms to the sectors are "yet another additional change that teachers will have to adapt to."

In the meantime, Pierre-Yves Jeholet Minister-President of the Francophone Community – which is responsible for the education sector in the French-speaking parts of the country – said he "understands the fatigue of teachers" and "how difficult the job is today," but said he "cannot accept the contempt for politics."

'Budget is not unlimited'

In an interview on LN24 and Bel RTL on Thursday morning, Jeholet underlined the funds made available to deal with the Covid crisis ("an additional €150 million"), as well as the reforms and the sectoral negotiations that his Government proposed – namely €32 million by 2024.

"The budget is not unlimited," Jeholet said. "At some point, with the budget of the French-speaking Community and the deficit we know, we cannot increase the budgets."

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The Minister-President spoke strongly against transferring these competencies to the Regions, which have the advantage of being able to levy taxes (unlike the Communities). "It is an easy slogan," he said, recalling that he was in any case opposed to raising new taxes.

A "real debate between the Francophones" in education is needed to see how to carry out "policies of simplification, rationalisation and abolition of certain public and semi-public structures," Jeholet suggested as a possible solution.

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