School Climate & Safety Opinion

Chile and the International Education Reform Struggle

By Greg Jobin-Leeds — November 22, 2011 2 min read
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U.S. educators, students, parents, policymakers, and Occupy activists can learn a lot from Chilean students. They have rallied en masse demanding Chile’s new presidential administration provide a new framework for education, including more direct state participation in education financing and an end to corporations turning higher education into for-profit centers (from private university corporations charging huge fees to STEM research being driven by corporate grants). The Chilean students believe education should be a freely accessible public good instead of a privatized good on which to make money. Like in the United States, with public funding dwindling, universities and even k-12 public schools are forced to depend on private donations and corporations who tell them what to do with those donations.

Juan Leyton, executive director of Neighbor to Neighbor says about his recent visit to Chile: “I was witnessing a major social and political upheaval against the current economic system in Chile. There were major social mobilizations, protests and demonstrations organized by students. Everybody was dancing to the same song: it was time to end an educational system based on profits. This demand was leading them to question the entire economic model -- one based on the neoliberal philosophy of free market approach to everything”. “Neoliberalism” describes predatory economic policies that allow the corporations to profit off of the formerly public goods like water, k-12 education, preschool, universities, etc.

Students are demanding the end of the school voucher system in Chilean preschools, primary, and secondary levels. They also want to end the public university financing policy that mixes state under-funding, high parental payments, and a state-guaranteed loan scheme that allow private banks to invest-in already high tuition fees and leave students heavily in debt. Leyton explains: “Chilean youth have exposed the weakest link in their free market economy. The one or two generations that didn’t grow up under dictator Augusto Pinochet are realizing how the economic system imposed by force during the dictatorship is having devastating economic consequences for their own education and future.”

While some corporate defenders endorse the Chilean system, that system is widely criticized for the tremendous inequalities that have sparked massive mobilizations against it. The students want this system replaced by a true publicly financed and managed education system, covering preschool to higher education. These fully federally funded systems are found in all the highest-performing education systems around the world, from Singapore to Finland to Ontario. Like Chile, over the past 40 years the Unites States has moved further and further away from these successfully proven systems of public finance. That is why we can learn from these students. Education reformers, policymakers and Occupy Wall Street would be smart to study these student mobilizations as well.

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