Monica, a WorldTeach Chile volunteer, offers some insights on the state of education in Chile and the similarities and differences to the US.
During the time I have been here, Chile’s educational system has been in a state of change. Passionate students, teachers, and citizens have taken to the streets to protest the quality and cost of education in Chile, advocating for educational reform; for better quality and free public education.
The public education available to Chilean students (like the municipal schools that I taught in) is mediocre at best. The public schools are underfunded, under-resourced, and poorly managed. Though it is considered one of South America’s most stable and prosperous nations, Chile is a country with extremely high economic inequality. The disparities between the rich and the poor are significant. And because of the state of the public schools in Chile, most families who can afford it send their kids to private or semi-private schools (my host siblings attend semi-private high school). This practice has created other problems within the educational system, including essentially turning schooling into a for-profit endeavor.
The educational problems extend to university education as well. Similar to in the US, university education in Chile is very expensive. The average monthly minimum wage in Chile is approximately $385 whereas the average monthly university tuition costs approximately $485. Most students graduate tens of thousands of dollars in debt. The expense and quality of education in the US is a constant topic of conversation. However in Chile, it is a constant source of action.
In protest of the cost and quality of education, all of Chile’s public universities and many of Chile’s public high schools have been “en toma” or on strike since June. The students have “taken” the schools–meaning that classes have been halted and a number of passionate students have barricaded themselves inside the buildings; living and sleeping there (some of them for almost four months now) as a demonstration to the president that the students are demanding a complete restructuring of the educational system.
In addition, the students (as well as teachers and other supporters) have organized marches, demonstrations and national strike days for all schools and universities (even private ones) in which people take to the street banging pots and pans (called cacerolazo demonstrations), holding posters and making it known that they are serious about change.
This is not to say that the students are perfect by any means. Some of the protests turn violent and some of the schools en toma have been vandalized by the same students who are demanding better facilities and materials. However, the way South Americans fight for change and show their want for something better is inspiring. It is how I imagine U.S. citizens acted in the past; fighting for racial equality and women’s rights, etc.; standing up for what they view to be inherent rights.
Needless to say, it has been an interesting time to be working in the educational field in Chile. I am rooting for the students and hope they get the change they are fighting for.