Thousands of Polish teachers protest against education reform

Warsaw (AFP) - Teachers held demonstrations across Poland on Monday in protest against education reforms proposed by the right-wing government that critics say could see thousands of jobs slashed.

The protests, organised by the national teachers union ZNP, erupted as the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party came under fire over issues including the abortion law, public health spending and a constitutional court crisis.

Around two thousand people, including elementary school pupils, took part in the Warsaw rally, chanting slogans such as "No to chaos" and "The death of Polish education", according to an AFP journalist.

"We are afraid of losing our jobs, that chaos will take over in our schools," teacher Ewa Ochenduszka said of the proposed overhaul that would see middle schools eliminated, bringing back an older model of just primary school and high school.

"We don't know the education programmes and we don't know what is waiting for us in the future," Ochenduszka told AFP at the Warsaw rally, as thousands of people protested elsewhere in Poland.

The demonstrators also voiced concern over proposed changes to the school curriculum.

"The direction that the minister of education proposes is a nationalist, xenophobic direction," ZNP president Slawomir Broniarz said at the demonstration.

"Emphasising history, literature and the Polish language is essential but these subjects cannot dominate the education system.

"No one has ever received a Nobel prize in Polish history! We have received Nobels in physics, chemistry, in economics -- these are the most important," he added.

The proposed education reforms are the latest in a series of controversial moves that the PiS government has undertaken since coming to power in November 2015.

Last week, PiS lawmakers scrapped a proposed abortion ban after tens of thousands of black-clad women demonstrated across Poland, as well as in other European capitals.

The proposal had strained relations between Warsaw and Brussels, already at odds in a high-pitched rule of law dispute involving government reforms of Poland's constitutional court.

In late September meanwhile thousands of doctors, nurses and hospital workers marched through central Warsaw demanding the government spend more on public health, especially to hike notoriously low salaries.