This week Chile ended the education sector experiment started in the 1980s by dictator Pinochet that had led to, by 2014, around 60% of the nation’s schools becoming charter schools. Like Thatcher and Reagan, Pinochet was a devotee of Milton Friedman’s free market ideology (one that the National Party of New Zealand follows, too), and deregulating schools is key to that ideology.
Chile is an interesting country, educationally, so it’s no wonder researchers have paid the country a lot of attention. Unfortunately, findings are varied and often contradictory, meaning findings leave as many questions still to be asked as they answer.
A wave of protests began, challenging the unequal system. Students were fed up of the underfunding of state schools, which were allowed to accept vouchers but, unlike charter schools, were not allowed to charge top up fees. State schools also had to accept all students, while charters were allowed to cherry pick who could attend. Inequality was a huge issue.
One research paper concluded that:
“…public schools are more likely to serve disadvantaged student populations than private voucher schools… [and] the typical public school is more internally diverse than the typical private voucher school. These results are not surprising given that public schools are mandated by law to accept all students who apply, regardless of ability to pay, while private schools are permitted to use parental interviews to select and expel students as they see fit.”
It was an unequal system in a country of ever-widening social inequality. It was compounding issues, not improving them.
In 2006, widespread student protests of inequalities in the education system prompted debate over whether entrepreneurs should be able to own and run private voucher schools for profit.
Protests continued and ramped up with huge demonstrations in 2010-2011, and by 2014 Chile saw the huge “National March for Education” with tens of thousands of people taking part. This prompted Chile’s President, Michelle Bachelet, to promise an end to education policies that had divided and segregated her country.
Change is Coming
On Monday 26th January 2015, Chile signed into law “the first part of the multi-pronged reform, which includes an end to profits at state-subsidized schools and eliminates their selective entrance policies”
“”What we’ve put an end to here is a set of illegitimate bases put in place during the dictatorship, behind the nation’s back, and today we’ve recovered Chile’s historic tradition and the best practices in the world,” said Education Minister Nicolas Eyzaguirre.”
The Minister said the next phase was to bolster the status, quality and pay of teachers and bring schools back into the state system. There are also plans to make university education free to all.
“Bachelet championed a recently approved tax overhaul that will boost the state’s coffers by $8.3 billion and help pay for the education changes. She also sent Congress a bill that seeks to balance labor relations by bolstering unions and workers’ rights.”
The charter school experiment in Chile went on for over 30 years; it is now being dismantled. The next part of this journey is not likely to be an easy one, with 200,000 students effected, but one can only hope the next incarnation is fairer and more equal.
One also hopes that other countries learn from this huge failure and take care not to find themselves in the same position.