There have been ongoing protests against the two tier education system in Chile for the last year or so but these have quickly turned into protests against economic inequality as much as anything else. The media in the UK has been largely silent about these large-scale demonstrations, for reasons that are best known to themselves. I have written about Chile’s economic and political systems several times on this blog and I have also alluded to the relationship between what the Tories are doing to state education here, and what happened to state education under Pinochet.
Here’s an interesting article from The Council for Hemispheric Affairs, from which I will quote a couple of excerpts. This one tells us,
By establishing market competition, the privatization policy was intended to “weed out” inefficient and disorganized schools as students, aided by readily-available voucher subsidies, gravitated toward institutions that would provide a better education.
Sounds familiar. No? There’s more…
Despite the government’s ostensible goal in equalizing the quality of education for students across economic lines, three discernible types of inequalities have emerged in its wake: stratification and inequality in access to private education, substantial differences in the quality of education received, and unequal opportunities for students pursuing higher education.
We already have a deeply-rooted class system in this country but the Tory-led government wants more. Let’s read on,
The introduction of education vouchers has produced an increasingly stratified school system in Chile on the basis of socioeconomic status. Unrestricted school choice in Chile has exacerbated stratification within the Chilean school system rather than provide more opportunities for low-income students to access better schools. Although such students now have the ability to apply to private institutions, two factors have prevented them from gaining equitable access to these schools. Low-income students suffer from a lack of information concerning school choice. They also rarely have the necessary means of transportation to attend private schools in urban areas.
Choice and equality are in conflict with one another.
As a result of these educational vouchers, the school system has become increasingly stratified due to “creaming,” in which private institutions have enacted selective admission policies designed to accept only the “cream of the crop.” These discriminatory policies have resulted in a sorting effect, in which higher income students have migrated in large numbers to subsidized fee-based private schools, while lower-income students remain entrapped in municipal public schools.
Presently, the Tories and their associates in the press have conducted a concerted campaign against the state education system. This has taken the form of op-ed pieces by journalists who are sympathetic to Gove’s ‘reforms’ as well as the usual drip feed of comments and articles that complain about “Marxist” teachers who have “corrupted the minds of our youths”, who all seem “unable to recognize” elements of a by-rote history syllabus: dates, names, places and so on. Such a history syllabus teaches pupils nothing other than the recall of information. The Tories see the teaching of critical thinking in subjects such as history as fundamentally dangerous, because those who can think for themselves represent a threat to the neoliberal project because they possess the ability to analyze and criticize. This isn’t something our leaders want. They want consumers. In the collective mind of the Right, free schools offer the perfect means to correct this tendency by inculcating the values of classical liberalism (sic), religious dogma and superstition in the young. Kill their cognitive abilities at an early age and they will be putty in their hands.
The two-tier education system that began under Pinochet has been left to operate intact since the dictator lost the plebiscite in 1988 and the country was returned to ‘democracy’. But this democracy is a fatally flawed one; the institutions and legal mechanisms that were put in place under El Caudillo, were never dismantled, repealed or modified. Instead, successive Chilean governments have turned a blind eye to the building tensions. Now matters have come to a head.
An article on the BBC website opens with this characteristic establishment view,
Chile is usually regarded as one of the most orderly and stable countries in South America, so the images that have come out of the capital, Santiago, in recent days have been especially shocking.
The presumption that Chile is “orderly and stable” is predicated on the myth of the Chilean ‘miracle’ and all the repression that came with it. The repression, like the wheat’s chaff, is simply discarded by apologists for the sake of getting to the narrative grain that supports the notion of the mythological ‘miracle’.
However this article tells us something else: that 45% of students go to state schools, 50% go to voucher schools, which are subsidized by the state and the rest go to elite private schools. The state system has been allowed to decay, while those schools that receive state subsidies through the voucher/tax credit scheme flourish. These voucher schools have done a great deal to create a system of educational haves and have-nots. We can see the potential danger of this in Gove’s divisive free school system.
The rationale behind the voucher schools and free schools is predicated on the slippery Hayekian notion of consumer choice in an education ‘marketplace’, in which all social relations are magically transformed into relationships between consumers and vendors. We have witnessed, with our own eyes in this country, what the effect of forced marketization has had on, for example, the NHS. It’s a cancer that eats away at the very patient that the plan was intended to cure.
What is revealing about the current situation in Chile is that the former Education Minister, Joaquín Lavín, was a prominent supporter of Pinochet and wrote a book titled Una revolución silenciosa (A Silent Revolution), which praised The Caudillo’s economic policies. This also tells us something about the direction and tenor of the Piñera government: it tried to reclaim the fragments of the glorious Pinochet years. Indeed, there were no less than three of the original Chicago Boys in Piñera’s first cabinet. Although Lavín was replaced in a reshuffle last year by Felipe Bulnes (who left the role six months later to take up his post as Ambassador to the United States) nothing has been done on the part of the government to address the fundamental issues. Indeed, the reshuffles are cosmetic and amount to little more than window-dressing.
Desperate and with the president’s approval ratings in decline, there are signs that the Piñera government is resorting to even more extreme measures to crush dissent. This article from Al-Jazeera is particularly illuminating.
This article from Huffington Post says,
President Sebastian Pinera said Wednesday a tax overhaul he is sending to congress will raise $700 million that will be enough to bring real changes to Chile’s education system. He spoke as thousands of students marched in the streets to denounce the plan as insufficient.
“This is a very profound change. It seeks quality and equal education. It establishes a system of credit that favors 90 percent of the students, and the state will provide the resources,” Pinera said in national television broadcast. “Businesses will have to pay more taxes.”
Here Piñera offered a sop to the protesters and nothing more. The state education system remains in tatters.
Watch as Milton Friedman, who argued for education vouchers, defends his ideas in this clip.
It’s interesting how no one challenges his ideas. The word of Friedman, the principal architect of neoliberal economics, is holy writ. Notionally axiomatic, the Right clings to his theories like a heavy person adrift at sea holding onto a tiny piece of driftwood for comfort.
As if to rub salt into the wounds of those who suffered at the hands of the DINA and the rest of Pinochet’s security apparatuses, Pinochetistas have recently released a documentary praising the dictator. This prompted another series of protests.
Here’s an edition of Faultlines that was shown on Al-Jazeera in January 2012.
Part of the blame for the current situation must lay with the centre-right La Concertacion electoral front, which did nothing to reverse Pinochet’s policies. They failed to dig deep into the soil and pull out the weeds, roots and all. But did they have the power to do so without repercussions?
Each demonstration in Chile tends to end with the gendarmerie using water cannon, tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse the protesters. This shouldn’t surprise us because the biggest threat to Chilean democracy is, of course, the military, who still enjoy a great deal of political influence. The armed forces have never left the political stage and wait in the wings for their moment.
Piñera has another two years to run on his presidency and at this rate, he won’t be getting a third term unless…let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
Here’s Camila Vallejo’s blog. Vallejo is the Vice President of the Chilean Federation of University Students.