From time to time Stanito dedicates space to her reader fellows for ideas, suggestions, topics they want to cover or simply for curiosity. So lately I’ve had questions regarding the Chilean students protests, what they look like, how massive they are, why they happened in the first place. Let’s jump back in time…
Ever since Pinochet’s dictatorship gave way to democracy, Chile has done a lot to stand out in Latin America earning recognition for its rapid growth, political stability and relatively robust institutions. One of the most open economies in the world has yet other big obstacles to overcome: education. It all happened on a cold night of August 2011…
It was the 4 August to be precise, and what you could hear on the streets in the center of Santiago was the clinking and banging of kitchen pots and pans. It’s called cacerolazo. Thousands of people gathered to protest. Every student discontent and protest that happened in 2011 was a direct result of the 2006 penguins revolution, a wave of protests that marched on the streets of Santiago claiming 3 things: (i) end of education for profit, (ii) end of LOCE (constitutional organic law that sets the minimum requirements of the education system established by the government Junta of Chile in 1990), and (iii) free transport pass for students. 2006 left us Chileans with one thought: the need to change Pinochet legacy.
What happened in 2011? In May, university students began to show their dissatisfaction in regard of educational policies that guided the tertiary sector and produced the first mass student march called by the Confederation of Students. If you look back now, you kind of realize that without mobilization of this magnitude it’s hard to think of concrete results
The reason? The need for free and high-quality education, a more equitable admissions process to prestigious universities, a much better state support for public universities, and other claims that do not address only regarding educational content and teachers qualifications, but also in regards of quality of infrastructure as well. In fact one of the demands expressed by university and high-school students is the request for the reconstruction of schools damaged during the earthquake that affected Chile in 2010.
Why? Because even though Chile’s education system is one of the least bad in Latin America, it is still far from being good and acceptable: there is huge disparity between rich and poor, rich people can have access to good private education, while poor people who cannot pay for it end up accessing underfunded state-funded schools.
Where did this all start? From Pinochet’s era. Pinochet left a voucher system in which the government runs no schools itself, but instead pays a fixed fee per pupil and delegates the schools administration to municipalities. With Bachelet’s administration 2006-2010 the value of the voucher increased to 100 US$ per student, which is obviously still not enough to cover the poorer segment.
What is the difference between private and public education? It’s abysmal. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it educational apartheid but the unevenness is undeniable: There are plenty of analysis showing the difference in result according to social class.
Students and teachers responded by demanding the abolition of all for-profit education system. A system that has been oriented towards privatization, which causes segmentation, exclusion and discrimination. There are no free universities in Chile. Middle-class students have access to some of the best schooling in the region, while the poor have to be content with under-funded state schools.
I’ve read on few newspapers that the estimated number or protesters in Santiago in 2011 were more than 37,000. Students organizers say 80,000 people took the streets. the police say that 100,000 participated.
The police estimated the number of protesters in Santiago at more than 37,000 but organisers say 80,000 people took to the streets. Not only in Santiago but it spread out to Valparaiso, Cocnepción, Temuco and Valdivia as well.
This is definitely a challenge for Chile, a country that is not very used to discuss, negotiate, compromise and build together. You can blame any president if you want, Bachelet, Piñera, but maybe if you understand where all this comes from it might be easier to foresee a solution and move forward a new scheme does not aim for commercialization of education.
What does it look like right now? Have a look on the photos from Cleber I. de Oliveira, Brazilian journalist from Rio Grande Do Sul who lives in Santiago.
More on Cleber photgraphic work: https://www.facebook.com/aprendaafotografar