Five Years Studying, Fifteen Paying
August 16, 2011
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For the past few months, student activists in Santiago have held marches and demonstrations to protest Chile’s weak educational infrastructure, sometimes with accompanying violence.
A couple of the issues are similar to the ones we are increasingly facing here in the States: Student debt is growing in a depressed job market, which means it makes less sense economically to earn a tertiary degree (unless of course you put value in education for education’s sake—I do—but that’s a separate issue). Second, the quality of education is extremely unequal, with the wealthy attending the best private secondary schools and thus gaining entrance to the handful of highly selective public universities and other top private ones; the middle class at voucher schools (private schools in which the government subsidizes costs) of varying quality with more constricted access to the best universities; and the poor at underfunded, dilapidated state schools with little prospect of university readiness or access. A recent Economist article quotes Dr. Mario Waissbluth, an organizer and leader of the Chilean activist organization Educación 2020 calling the Chilean education system an “educational apartheid” in which “the kids from the posh suburbs study in those suburbs, go to university in those suburbs, get jobs as company executives in those suburbs and employ friends from the schools they went to themselves.”
What makes Chile’s educational problems different, and frankly more interesting, is the Chilean reliance on private, for-profit education. Under Augusto Pinochet, the private markets were allowed to control even education (one of the reasons was his neoliberal predilection, another may have been his desire to dismantle the powerful liberal bastions that Chile’s main universities were). An article by the BBC (also the source of the image) notes that more than half of Chile’s schools are privately run. Moreover, they are largely for-profit ventures, attracting international investors. While market demands certainly require these schools to provide a certain quality of education (read: competitive product) to retain market share, I have a distinct feeling that these Chilean demonstrators are on to something.