SANTIAGO, CHILE– "A country's development is expressed by the quality of its schools, not by the quality of its highways." The hand-painted sign hung outside a Santiago high school last week, one of hundreds that have been paralyzed in recent weeks by massive student demonstrations calling for education reform in Chile.
The sign sums up the pent-up frustrations in one of Latin America's most stable economies, whose modern sewage plants, envied subway system, and automated-toll superhighways are icons of Chile's rapid economic growth. Meanwhile, many of the country's public schools are in dire need of new infrastructure, resources, and better-trained teachers.
Chile's education system has reached this state after years of neglect and outdated teacher training, says Rodrigo Vera, an education expert with the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO). "Even church ceremonies have changed more than our classrooms," says Vera.
He also blames what he calls a misguided faith in privatized services: "We've had a neoliberal-system way of trying to organize health and education, and after 30 years of this model we find that the market has produced differences and not equity."
. . . . Almost 15 percent of Chilean high school kids study in fully privatized schools, 35 percent are in municipal public schools, and the remaining 50 percent attend cheaper private schools with state subsidies. But according to Vera, only a handful of subsidized schools manage to achieve the results of those in the private system. He says almost 90 percent of students in fully privatized schools will go on to university, whereas only 10 to 15 percent do so from subsidized or fully public schools. On national exams, the average scores for students in Chile's public schools are almost half that of their counterparts in private schools. . .