Thousands protest in Poland against education reforms

Polish lawmakers passed a law restricting rallies, such as the protest against the Law and Justice (PiS) party's education reform proposal (pictured) (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski) (AFP/File)

Warsaw (AFP) - Tens of thousands of protesters, including many teachers, from all over Poland protested in Warsaw on Saturday against education reforms proposed by the right-wing government that critics say could see thousands of jobs slashed.

The demonstrators are also concerned over proposed changes to the school curriculum, including the inclusion of "patriotic values" espoused by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

"I call upon Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and the government not to destroy the assets" of the current education system, said Slawomir Broniarz, head of the main teachers' union.

Whistle-blowing demonstrators cheered Broniarz at Warsaw's central Pilsudski Square, shouting slogans such as "No to chaos in schools", "Stop education reforms", and "No to revolution in schools".

The organisers said 50,000 people turned up for the protest but city officials put the number at 30,000.

Critics say the proposal was drafted in haste and has many flaws.

Broniarz called for a "massive social front" to mobilise against the reforms, saying there would be "chaos" if the changes were introduced.

"It's more difficult to raise the number of schoolgoing children, it's easier to draft a law," said Jan Skrzypek, an arts teacher, branding the proposal a "political" move.

"The first step today is to change the structure, the second will be to tackle the curriculum, by putting the focus on Poland's past, and not its future," Skrzypek said.

"It's wrong to wrap ourselves up in national myths and not advance towards the future and towards an open society in Europe."

The reforms envisage changing the three-tier school system to just two levels, which means that many high schools will be closed.

"We fear for our children but also for our jobs," said Bozena Ludna, the principal of a high school in western Poland.

The PiS government has attracted controversy on several issues including tightening the abortion law and changes to Poland's constitutional court's decision-making rules, which sparked a crisis.

The latter reforms have alarmed the European Union and triggered a string of street protests, with the opposition claiming the changes are intended to paralyse the court and undermine democracy.