A 23-year-old Chilean student leader has been named as ‘Person of the Year 2011’ by a British newspaper. Camila Vallejo received the accolade from The Guardian, ahead of leading personalities, including German chancellor Angela Merkel. Vallejo, ex-President of the University of Chile’s Student Federation (FECH), secured 78 per cent of the votes among readers.
Chile’s student federations, together with education unions, have been engaged in an ongoing battle for citizens' fundamental right to quality free education, with massive demonstrations besetting the country for many months last year. They have been leading the demands for a profound reform of the education system, derived from President Piñeira's education policy which echoes the policies of Pinochet's military dictatorship in the 1980s.
More than 50 per cent of the population in Chile are paying for education. The most vulnerable groups are concentrated in municipal public schools which cover just over a half of the registration fees. The rest go to private schools which are financed by the State and also receive direct payments from families. Vallejo said recently that students would continue their struggle for free, quality education. In an interview with weltnetz.tv, an independent platform, she explained: "For the first time in Chile, students have organised. This led to many political discussions about the problems education is facing, and about solutions for this crisis.” A private education system “is socially no longer tenable, this reinforces inequality. It does not guarantee quality and is also used to make a profit. And the state is evading its responsibility", she added.