Over the past few months, Chilean students and educators have protested for significant reforms to the country’s current educational system. The protests have ranged from 30 minute kissing marathons to caceroleo (banging pots and pans) to hunger strikes, but have remained peaceful.
However, the protests took an ugly turn when protesters set fire to cars, looted stores, and threw furniture at police. The police responded with tear gas and water cannons. Police reported 23 officers were injured and 273 demonstrators detained.
The Current System
The current system, put in place in the early 1990′s, is made up of three types of schools: municipal schools (free and publicly funded), state subsidized private schools (a mixture of fee-based and voucher), and private schools (completely tuition-based).
It’s a system that has been praised by many for the high enrollment of children in full-day primary and secondary schools. Chile leads Latin America in student enrollment and quality of education.
However, there is less access, according to the protesters, once a child is ready to enter high school and college levels. They say the quality of education is dramatically different from region to region and the students from some schools are not prepared for higher levels of education.
Equal and free access to education from kindergarten through college is at the core of the protests.
What may have spurred the violence is the release of 21 proposals from the Education Minister to improve or reform the Chilean education system. Among the proposals was a constitutional right to education, transferring control of under-performing schools from local governments to national government, and more public funding for universities.
The protesters said these reforms were not radical enough.
“I read the proposal,” said Universidad de Santiago’s Dr. Retamal during a conversation with the Santiago Times on Tuesday. “And I believe it doesn’t have anything new, anything radical or anything extraordinary.”
A Year of Education Lost
Some educators and politicians are dismayed that many of the students may lose what amounts to a year of education as their winter school season begins to draw to an end. ”The school year is already lost no matter what happens to the negotiations,” said Santiago mayor Pablo Zalaquett.
With about 70 high schools shut down by the protesters, some think that the price of a year of education is the cost for reform.
As high school junior Felipe Garrido said, “Losing the year will be worth it in this fight.”
What do you think? Is a year lost of schooling worth it? Or does the time off undercut the message of reform?