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Student Movement Rocks Chile

Students campaign against a privatized educational system and demand education as a right.

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TRUMPER: Privatize health, privatize education, privatize pensions. The idea of privatizing education did not come direct from Chile. It came from the Chicago school. It was developed at an inter-American level and so on. So it started in Chile and in the early '80s, and actually began to be developed in the '70s, but with ideas that are certainly not Chilean, that are neoliberal. It's the development of neoliberalism and the hegemony of neoliberalism around the world.

DOUGHERTY: The 1981 privatization of the education system under the Pinochet regime weakened public universities and decentralized control of public education, dividing schools into three categories: private schools subsidized by state vouchers on a per student basis; public schools transferred to the municipal level, and also funded by individual vouchers; and private schools paid for entirely by the clients. The market model was maintained and strengthened under subsequent governments following Chile's 1990 transition to democratic elections. While access to higher education was expanded, a lack of government funding and oversight fostered the creation of a class-tiered educational system, where students with fewer resources are tracked into lower performing private schools with diminished career prospects, accumulating massive debts in the process through the high-interest loans they are forced to take with private banks.

LAGOS: What is seen today is that the higher education system is full of universities with profiles that specifically target poorer students, depending on the composition of the university, which has led to what we refer to as segmentation. So you could say that there is an element of class within the university system. Still, I don't think this is the only element that exists. One of the main elements we have today that might be what triggered the mobilization is indebtedness. Today in Chile there are very high interest rates. We have to take out loans with the banks that leave us with very large debts that directly affect our families.

TRUMPER: So what happens then is that poorer students go to the worst primary schools, the worst secondary schools, the worst universities, and they pay or their families pay for their education. And they get out, and they don't have--if they finish--and they don't get a job, so they are quite unable to pay. I think that's more or less how the neoliberal system works, right? It works on the one hand segregating, and on the other hand disciplining, and on the third hand making money out of the people.

DOUGHERTY: One of the students' demands is an end to profiteering in what has become a lucrative private education market that further funnels money into Chile's corporate elite. While the original legislation established that universities are not to be run on a for-profit basis, there are a number of loopholes that allow some families and firms to reap massive profits off the education of Chile's youth. At the center of the Chilean student struggle is the question over whether education should be a guaranteed social right or a service to be purchased on the market.

LAGOS: We consider higher education to be a right, a social investment that must be guaranteed and provided by the state. On the other hand, what the government has said is that education is an individual investment, a personal investment that each person has to take care of for themselves and figure out how to pay on their own. This is the big fight behind everything we are doing with this mobilization.

DOUGHERTY: Chile has a history of strong student-led movements. And in 2006, high school students led a number of protests demanding various changes to the education system. The government of then-president Michelle Bachelet agreed to address a number of the students' concerns, but many found the response to be too slowly implemented and, ultimately, insufficient. This has contributed to a feeling of frustration and mistrust in government negotiations among the university students currently leading the mobilizations, many of whom were of high school age during the 2006 protests. Students have put forth a 12-point proposal of their demands and have agreed to meet with Presidents Pinera tomorrow, on Saturday, September 3, after having rejected several previous offers for talks. There is skepticism over whether the embattled president will seriously consider the demands of the students, who have vowed to continue to take to the streets if their proposals are not adequately addressed. This is David Dougherty with The Real News Network.

 
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