WARSAW (Reuters) - Thousands of Polish teachers and parents marched through the streets of Warsaw on Saturday to protest against planned education reforms which they fear will bring chaos to schools.
The protest on a rainy Saturday was another sign of discontent with the conservative Law and Justice party, which won elections in 2015. In October mass protests by women led to parliament throwing out government plans for a near-total ban on abortion.
The ruling party's popularity remains high thanks to higher welfare spending but its efforts to assert control of state institutions have deeply split Polish society and raised European Union fears about an erosion of Polish democracy and media freedoms.
The demonstration was organised by the teachers' union which estimated it attracted around 50,000 people.
"We want to protest against the chaos, confusion and dismantling of the Polish education which is being organised by the education ministry," state-run news agency PAP quoted the union's chairman, Slawomir Broniarz, as saying.
The government plans to revive a two-stage education system of 8-year primary school and 4-year secondary school which functioned until 1999 and is associated by some with the communist era.
The last education reform in 1999 introduced a three-stage system of a 6-year primary school followed by 3-year middle-school and then by a general education high school or a vocational one.
The education ministry now plans to wind down the middle schools starting from next year. The reform will also introduce changes to the obligatory curriculum and teachers complain that the new educational content still remains unknown.
Critics of the reform also quote data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showing that Polish school children have improved their education performance since 2003. They fear the new reform will jeopardise the progress made.
In front of the parliament building protesters piled a meter-high heap of chalk which was meant to symbolize "broken educational careers of students and professional careers of teachers".
Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Stephen Powell