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Zurich teachers protest at falling standards

Many classrooms in Zurich will be empty

(Keystone)

Zurich's schoolteachers went on strike on Friday to express their growing dissatisfaction with falling educational standards.

In recent years, teachers in Zurich, Bern, Aargau, Basel and in French-speaking areas have taken to the streets - an unusual step in a country not known for strikes.

"Politicians of every persuasion emphasise continually the importance of education for the future of our children and our country," stated the Zurich teachers' association in a leaflet calling Friday's day of action.

"But when it comes to putting words into action, that is unfortunately a different matter altogether."

The national teachers' umbrella organisation has also been trying for some time to draw attention to the plight of its overworked and frustrated members, especially those teaching the first nine years of compulsory, basic education.

Problems in schooling are on the rise because of stretched budgets, as well as federal and cantonal governments' funding cutbacks.

Social work not teaching

The main criticism of the teachers' unions is that the new roles being assigned to teachers are more to do with child raising than teaching.

According to a survey in 2002, Swiss teachers felt society placed too big a burden on them, requiring them to act as social workers.

At the same time class sizes were increasing and funding had decreased.

The teachers questioned said the biggest stress factors were the social environment and difficult parents.

The survey also found increased dissatisfaction with general working conditions, specifically salaries, reforms and job status.

Cantonal cuts

In the latest action Zurich teachers are rallying against the cantonal government's planned budget cuts, which they argue will lead to lower standards in basic compulsory schooling.

One of the changes to the budget will see the loss of 750 jobs in education by 2007. The average size of classes will be increased from 25 to 28, while a quarter of the craft and handiwork classes will be cut.

Swiss teachers believe this could lead to a two-tier society - rich cantons and local schools will be able to afford a good range of subjects, while the poorer ones will have to make do with much lower schooling standards.

The Zurich parliament is to decide on the cuts and reforms in September.

In other cantons such as Basel City and Bern, more cutbacks are expected in the near future.

The problems are not confined to Switzerland. France and Austria have also seen schools closed by industrial action.

Teachers in those countries have gone on strike repeatedly to protest about reforms to their pension schemes.

French teachers were also trying to stop the removal of teaching/social work assistants in schools.

These new jobs were introduced by the former prime minister, Lionel Jospin, to take over the social work function previously assigned to teachers.

swissinfo, Rita Emch (Translation: Tania Peitzker)

In brief

Around 5,700 teachers downed tools for at least part of the day over concerns about falling educational standards.

They were demonstrating against the cantonal government's planned budget cuts, which they say will lower standards.

Unions say that teachers are overworked and are doing more child raising than teaching.

Problems in schooling are on the rise due to budget cutbacks. Zurich's parliament will decide on the level of cutbacks in September.

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