MADRID Thousands of students, lecturers and parents took to the streets across Spain on Thursday to protest against austerity cuts, higher university fees and other changes to the education system.
Teachers and students went on strike at universities and some schools, staying away from classes.
"The government is getting rid of quality, public education. They're taking us back 30 years and they only want the children of the rich and powerful to get an education," said Emilio Duran, a 51-year-old lawyer from Madrid with a daughter at primary school and a son at secondary school.
The cash-strapped government has cut public spending across the board - education minister Jose Ignacio Wert told Reuters earlier this year his department had seen cuts of up to 7 percent over the past two years.
It has also brought in reforms it says are designed to improve education standards - including making university students take tests at the end of every academic year to guarantee re-entry.
The government has said it wants to make young people, over half of whom are currently unemployed, more attractive to hire, give schools more freedom and improve foreign language teaching.
But aspects of the reforms, including a greater weighting for Spanish language in the classroom have angered the public, especially in areas where other languages are spoken. Students are also unhappy that academic requirements for access to university study grants will be tightened.
Over half of young people in the country are unemployed.
Spain eked out 0.1 percent economic growth in the third quarter, ending a recession of over two years. But public sector reform will have long-lasting effects and austerity-weary Spaniards know spending will not pick up anytime soon.
"I'm protesting because of the cuts in education, especially the growing number of students in classrooms, the migration from state to private education and the increase in tuition fees," said Jose Vicente Mendiola, a 30-year-old primary school teacher from the Madrid dormitory town of Fuenlabrada.
Unions said over 90 percent of students and 83 percent of education workers had gone on strike on Thursday, while the Education Ministry said 21 percent of teachers had walked out and deemed the strike a failure.
(Reporting by Emma Pinedo; Additional reporting by Rodrigo De Miguel and Daniel Ruiz; Writing by Clare Kane)