Police attacked the demonstrators with tear gas and water cannon. The students are demanding an increase in the proportion of GDP which is spent on education from four per cent to seven per cent. The demonstrators are also calling for the state to take back control of public schools from the municipalities – which took over when the military dictator Pinochet was president of Chile.
The present billionaire president Sebastian Piñera enjoyed a brief period of popularity after the rescue of the Chilean miners last autumn but his approval rating has gone down to 36 per cent. One of the student leaders, Giorgio Jackson, said that this was the biggest demonstration since the fall of Pinochet.
Earlier this month students occupied many schools and colleges calling for an end to the school voucher system, the underfunding of the university system, high student fees and the involvement of banks in student loans.
Chile was the cradle of many neo-liberal education policies such as decentralisation, privatisation and school vouchers after Pinochet took power in an illegal coup in 1973. As a result, Chile has developed one of the world’s most segregated education systems. This leads to increased privatisation.
The current minister of education was himself the owner of a university before taking office.
EI General Secretary, Fred van Leeuwen, noted: “If this trend continues, Chile will be unable to provide quality education for all. The government must listen to its people and halt this unbridled policy of privatising education.”
He added: “EI will continue showing that public education services are most often effective than private ones, contrary to the affirmations of numerous governmental and employer forums and international financial institutions, and that their effectiveness can only be increased through systematic partnership policies at international, national, regional and local levels.”
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