"The government consistently tells us they want to protect our mixed (public-private) education system. However, what they are proposing is an increase in investment in private sector education which will ultimately lead to the destruction of free education in Chile."
Student Federation of Universidad de Chile (FECH) Vice President Camila Vallejo, one of the student leaders who presented a budget proposal to a Congressional committee this week. The students asked for the government to cover 30 percent of public universities’ budgets.
Forty-two percent of Chile’s newest teachers don’t have adequate teaching skills. And 69 percent don’t know the teaching curriculum. At least, those are the findings from the Chilean Education Ministry’s Inicia 2011 test, which is given to newly graduated teachers, according to the Santiago Times.
The test, for now, is voluntary and was taken by 3,271 recent graduates. Eight percent of teachers were rated as outstanding based on their teaching skills. Just 2 percent - or 25 teachers-to-be - received the highest possible rating for their knowledge of subjects in the curriculum.
“What’s important here are the students,” Education Minister Harald Beyer said at a news conference. “They deserve better teachers and we should have high quality and equal education.”
It’s good news for Chilean student protesters, who spent months last year demanding improvements to the country’s public education system. If a new Education Ministry proposal gets through Congress, banks will no longer provide a significant amount of student loans. Instead the bulk of funds will come from the government, lessening the interest rate for many students, reports the Santiago Times.
Under the new system, all but the richest 10 percent of students will use state-financed loans with an interest rate of 2 percent. The interest rate through banks is 6 percent. Students will also only have to start paying back loans once they start earning money and will never pay more than 10 percent of their income.
Although the plan directly address demands from the student protests, they won’t celebrate just yet:
The proposal has yet to be discussed in Congress and for this reason student leader Gabriel Boric gave a cautious response to the news.
“We have to study this proposal in detail - we are somewhat accustomed to the ‘small print’ of the government - but it seems that there is a positive reaction,” the president of the Federation of Students of the Universidad de Chile (FECH) told Chilean press. “The government is clearly acting on the demonstrations of last year.”
"No longer can there be tantrums and the expectation for others to solve our problems. Now, whenever we are required to, we will present clear and concrete resolutions, rather than demanding solutions from the central power."
— Gabriel Boric, president of Confederation of University Students of Chile. The group recently released an 80-page plan to reduce the cost of education for Chilean families.
The Chilean government has voted to reduce the interest on student loans from 6 percent to 2 percent, according to the Santiago Times. No one will be forced to pay more than 10 percent of their income, either, said education minister Harald Beyer. For those who owe loan payments beyond 10 percent of what they make, the government will pay the difference.
Chile has been plagued with student protests since the summer, demanding huge changes to the country’s educational system, including the elimination of private universities. The news loans would be lowered was met with criticism and skepticism about how much the new law would improve things.
“This system will result in a massive injection of state funds to the private sector because the reduction of these interest rates is ultimately financed by the state,” said student leader Noam Titelman. Titleman also disapproved of how quickly the legislation was passed. “Such urgency makes it impossible to have a substantial and truthful discussion about a law that, when you think about it will affect thousands of Chileans.”
High school and college students in Chile began protesting in August of last year, calling for a more equitable education system. The newly released results of the university entrance exam give further credence to their claims, demonstrating a widening achievement gap between public and private schools in the country, reports the Santiago Times.
The test has been determining university admissions in Chile since 2003. Since 2004, the gap between scores of private and public school students has been growing. This year, the disparity was 157 points on the 850-point test.
Some universities may change the admissions process to consider a ranking of students within their own schools in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the gap.
That likely will not be enough for student protesters though:
The student organization behind the university-level protests, known as Confech, demanded the abolition of the [test] system, which they argue “does not capture the talents of our country, but rather detects the socioeconomic level [of students].”
Many Chilean academics share this view. Monica Silva of Chile’s Universidad Católica, for example,stated that the [test] measures “the opportunity to learn more than the ability to learn.”
Despite sixth months of protests from unhappy high school and college students in Chile, the country’s government passed its 2012 budget leaving many demands unmet.
After a historic 29 hour session, the Chilean senate approved the budget late last week. The education portion of the budget, which was brought up in hour 27, included over $1 billion in new education funding.
"Education Minister Felipe Bulnes hailed the decision as a victory for his government and the nation’s education system, citing the proposal’s plan to increase the number of scholarships awarded to state-funded universities from 52,000 to 99,000, to technical training institutions from 82,000 to 121,000 and to private universities from 1,800 to 20,000," reports the Santiago Times.
But students, who among other things had pushed for elimination of private higher education in the country, vowed to continue their protests. “Unfortunately the political system did not meet our demands, and the government made the budget the way they wanted without even considering the proposals we made,” said student confederation spokesperson Noam Titelman.
Despite talks between students and the government collapsing last week, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera is moving forward on two education reform bills, according to the Santiago Times.
One bill would transfer administration of schools to the federal level from the municipal - a win for the protesters. But the other would create a position to regulate for-profit higher education, something that students have demanded be eliminated all together.
If the two pieces of legislation continue, it’s likely that they will add further fuel to the demonstrations that have been raging in the country, with tens of thousands of the students taking to the streets.
As the Times wrote: “The move will likely further distance the Pinera administration from student leaders - who have been vigorously campaigning for education reform for over five months - considering that one of the students requirements to engage in dialogue was for the government to freeze its proposed bills concerning education, which were drafted without student or teacher input.”
"Our demands still stand and we will show in the streets that this is a historic movement and that we are ready to carry on until we achieve our aims."
— Sebastián Farfán, President of Valparaíso University’s student federation - and one of the thousands of students who have been protesting in Chile for three months over the state of education in the country.
As university students in Chile continue to protest the country’s education system, an op-ed in today’s Guatemala News takes a look at the big picture, asking ‘are protests here to stay?’
Although the recent protests have captured the headlines of the Chilean media, and also been highlighted in the international press, there has been little serious analysis of the underlying reasons for such an outbreak of unrest. Are we looking at an isolated period of incidents or is this the beginning of a broader cycle of protest? Are the consequences of Chile’s lack of social cohesion and profound inequalities finally coming home to roost? Or are these demonstrations simply a manifestation of the fact that Chile is becoming a “normal” democracy?
Beyond the explanations relating to the Piñera government’s unpopularity and inability to respond appropriately to the demands of the protesters, we argue that what we are witnessing in Chile is the result of two parallel processes: on the one hand, the protests express the rise of more critical citizens, and on the other hand, they show that social movements have reached significant levels of organization. This coincidence of demand and supply explains not only why the protests have been massive, but also strongly supported by the majority of the Chilean population. These new scenarios make it very likely that the protests of the last months are not an isolated phenomenon, but rather, something that will be a recurrent feature of the Chilean political landscape during coming years, unless the existing structures of political representation and the social distribution of economic gains change.