Students and parents marching in Santiago, Chile. (Photo: Elibertaria/Flickr. Creative Commons Licence: Atribution/Noncommercial/No Derivatives)

Chileans march for equality in education

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For months, Chile has seen almost daily protests by students frustrated at a system that fails to provide the poor with an equal opportunity to get a decent education.

The Chilean case exemplifies the potential pitfalls of competition in the education sector. The 2009 EFA Global Monitoring Report, Overcoming inequality: Why governance matters, warned of the danger “that poorly managed ‘quasi-markets’ in education […] will leave public education systems trapped in a downward spiral of underinvestment, poor quality of provision and widening inequalities.”

Although there have been violent clashes between protesters and police forces, the vast majority of the protests have been peaceful and creative. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in carnivals, choreographed dances and other stunts.

Chile’s current education system, which allows competition between public and private schools began under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet but has been maintained by subsequent democratic governments. Households now bear 39% of all education spending in Chile – the highest of any OECD country, Bloomberg reports.

The current government, under President Sebastián Piñera, has proposed increasing scholarships and reducing interest rates for student loans, but refuses to meet the students’ demand for more public institutions, according to the Washington Post.

Although Chile has had near universal primary education enrolment since the 1970s, the education system is characterised by strong inequalities. Public schools generally enrol poorer students, while their private counterparts almost entirely educate pupils from richer families. As a consequence, the country retains some of the starkest inequalities of education in Latin America.

Furthermore, the system has done little to close the gap between Chile and the rest of the developed world. Of the 34 OECD countries, only Mexico performed worse in the latest PISA reading assessment.

Little seems to have changed since we reported in the 2009 GMR that “Secondary school students have responded not with enthusiasm for past governance reforms, but with street protests over poor quality and highly unequal education provision. […] Chile remains a weak advertisement for the governance reform blueprint favoured by many governments and aid donors.”

The 2009 GMR found that in Chile, as elsewhere, the evidence “points to a strong case for governments to focus their energies and resources on public provision of quality basic education for everyone.”


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