Education in Chile
In 1990, Chile democratized after almost two decades under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. His imposition of neoliberalism in the early 1980s, characterized by individualization and competitiveness, dramatically changed education in Chile. Pinochet’s universal educational voucher system set into motion the privatization of education. Three types of schools served children: completely free public schools, fee-based subsidized private schools and non-subsidized private schools that family tuition entirely paid for. Within this system, a student’s socioeconomic status foretold their experiences and educational attainment.

Separate & Unequal

Proponents of privatization argue that giving parents the option to choose the best school for their child leads to competition for student enrollment and thus improved the quality of schools. This promised “choice,” however, was only available to those with the financial resources to afford higher quality, fee-based private schools for their children, leaving underfunded public schools as the only option for impoverished Chilean families.

Marie Gentile, a former teacher for English Opens Doors, a volunteer initiative that the Chilean Ministry of Education supports, told The Borgen Project that she had the opportunity to teach in both a public and a subsidized private school. Gentile reported that teaching in the public school system was “definitely a much different experience. I had a lot of really sweet, engaged kids, but there were also some extreme behavior issues that stemmed from toxic home situations.” She reported that “teaching in a public school was almost always people’s last choice. Once you started teaching in a public school, it was hard to “move up” to a private school, which paid more and had an “easier” student/family population.” Gentile’s experiences show the larger problem of education in Chile and the extreme discrepancy between socioeconomically segregated public and private schools.

The 2015 Program for International Students Assessment indicates that students from the highest quartile in economic status outscored their counterparts in the lowest quartile by about a fourth in science, reading and mathematics. Perpetuating the cyclic nature of poverty is the fact that 60% of students living in poverty, compared with 13% of those from the highest socioeconomic class, enroll in technical-professional programs with the aim of entering the workforce after high school. A student’s socioeconomic status is an accurate predictor of performance in school and postsecondary plans.

Corrective Legislation

Two years after massive student strikes in 2006, the Chilean government passed the Preferential School Subsidy Law (SEP) to “boost student achievement and reduce income-based gaps.” Under SEP, priority students or students from families in the bottom 40% of the income distribution, which would later increase to the bottom 50%, did not have to pay fees and private schools could not deny them due to academic grounds. The effect was that poor families had a wider scope of school choices. Moreover, schools received increased funding to participate in SEP.

To ensure accountability, schools participating in SEP have to administer national assessments. Schools labeled “insufficient” on national assessments for four consecutive years faced potential closure. The Ministry of Education in Chile uses the results of national assessments to “identify the deficits of each [insufficient] school and tailor specific programs that respond’ to those needs,” however, using school closure as a means to improve the system as a whole has undergone fierce debate.

Due to increased choice, funding, accountability and the partial desegregation of schools, the gap in academic performance between the highest and lowest socio-economic rungs of Chilean society narrowed between 2005 and 2012. In fact, the “size of the income-based test-score gap in [4th-grade] mathematics declined by at least one-third.”

Recent Initiatives and Legislation

To improve upon the SEP legislation, in 2016, the government of Michelle Bachelet passed the Inclusion Law. Markedly, this law increases the number of people receiving “priority student” qualification by 20%, does not require the devolvement of economic, social or academic background in the school admissions process for schools receiving government funding, and states that “by 2018, all schools that receive contributions from the state must be organized as non-profit entities.”

Another equalizing legislative measure is “Gratuidad,” a policy that passed in 2016 and makes college tuition-free in Chile for the lowest 60% of the income distribution. This policy has promising impacts on the number of students living in poverty who attend tertiary school. A report found that “15% of Chilean students in the program would have otherwise not sought a college education.” Gratuidad aims to address concerns raised over years of public protests, including that of high college tuition, student loan debt and the “gulf in quality between the institutions attended by the wealthiest and poorest students.”

Wish List

Student advocacy groups continue to fight for more equality in education. A recent priority for student protestors is the termination of the PSU, a prerequisite assessment for applying to college. Students argue that the assessment is biased and favors affluent students and data supports their messaging. In 2018, 30% of the public, 43.5% of subsidized private and 79% of fully private school students obtained the minimum score for college application. The PSU, they argue, is another system that disadvantages the disadvantaged.

Since the fall of Pinochet, governments have tried to mitigate the socioeconomic inequities augmented by the dictator’s education system. Inclusive legislation and a strong national student voice have driven Chile forward in its pursuit of equal education in Chile.

– Brittany Granquist
Photo: Flickr

tapestry weavingIn Chile, from 1973 to 1990, systemic human rights violations swept the nation under General Augusto Pinochet, including acts of physical and sexual abuse as well as psychological damage. Consequently, many progressive young students and men “disappeared” at the hands of the regime because of their ideology. While a grim history, hope can be found in the subsequent actions of women. The Arpilleristas were able to overcome such hardships through tapestry weaving.

Chilean Women Unite

Mothers united and responded to the oppression and torture that was inflicted upon their loved ones with methods of protests that defied masculine logic, such as publicly banging pots and pans, singing and dancing to songs with political messages and weaving tapestries. These actions challenged the societal norms in Chile, which were embedded with machismo ideology and male superiority.

Tapestry Weaving as a Form of Resistance

The weaving of tapestries was an especially impactful form of resistance that was founded in 1975. Once unified, the Arpilleristas began to construct patchwork tapestries, or arpilleras, that depicted scenes of hardship and violence that people experienced under Pinochet.

The hand-made arpilleras portrayed shantytown community kitchens, which were often families’ only means of feeding themselves, women’s laundry and bread-baking subsistence-level cooperatives, arrests and soldiers beating protesters. It was through the crafting of the arpilleras that women were granted a voice to tell their individual and collective stories.

Economic Empowerment

However, the crafting of the arpilleras was more than just an act of protest and storytelling, it was also a way to generate income. The women weaving arpilleras was a form of advocacy and also a livelihood. The Arpilleristas transformed conventional visions of secluded motherhood and domesticity, all the while eliminating submissive and passive associations regarding women.

With the return of democracy in the 1990s, the oppression f the Pinochet dictatorship has since been eradicated. All individuals are able to enjoy democracy. The women, “do so now, however, with a different consciousness. Women have not forgotten the empowerment they gained when they learned they could change things by taking to the streets and protesting the dictatorship.

It is this confidence that continues to inspire women as they face problems in Chile, however, they do so in a different manner now.

A Return to Democracy

It was only through the opression of the dictatorship and conservative gender ideology promoted by the dictatorship, Chilean women mobilized as feminists to demand a return to democracy. Though they were not self-identified feminists, the collective act of women uniting in order to defeat oppression has altered and expanded women’s rights in Chile today and recharacterized the very definition of motherhood.

The Arpilleristas’ tapestry weaving has served as an inspiring example of fighting against injustice while empowering women through economic development. By employing an accepted tradition of weaving, the women were able to capitalize and in many cases negate extreme poverty and additional hardships.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr

In recent times, some of the largest economic growth in South America has occurred in a small and notoriously narrow country, the Republic of Chile. A standard-bearer of free-market capitalism, Chile’s rapid expansion over the past 35 years has been staggering. According to Forbes, “poverty has fallen from 50 percent to 11 percent, per-capita income has increased from 4.000 dollars to almost 20.000 dollars and inflation was reduced from over 250 percent per year to less than 7 percent per year.” Often referred to as the “The Miracle of Chile,” this development seemed to lift the country out of economic and political chaos and into remarkable prosperity.

In 1973, Chile was in dire straits. Its annual rate of inflation had reached 150 percent and its economy was spiraling downward. On top of this, the country experienced the bloodiest coup of 20th century South America in which the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet seized power from the Socialist president Salvador Allende. Over the course of just one month, over 3,000 Chileans lost their lives as military planes strafed and bombed the presidential palace. Ironically, this militaristic dictator became the source of the economic miracle.

General Pinochet promptly began to dismantle Allende’s socialist system and in its place instituted free-market economic policies. To enact these policies, Pinochet gathered together a collection of economists named the ‘The Chicago Group,’ as many members had studied at the University of Chicago. The group endorsed lower tax rates, the privatization of state companies, lower government spending and deregulation. But this growth came at a price to civil liberties and democratic values. In his 1980 constitution, Pinochet set the stage for Chile’s growth by prioritizing economic freedom at the cost of political oppression and social programs.

In 1990, Pinochet failed to retain his office after losing a public election and Chile steered back towards democracy. While his policies in the 1980s had brought the country out of financial failure and into economic prosperity, they left the poorest Chileans behind. Due to tax cuts and lackluster government spending, 45 percent of Chileans still lived in poverty. To the new Chilean government of the 1990s, the next big step was to confront poverty. Their solution was social spending.

Their plan was extraordinarily successful. Between the years of 1989 and 1997, the new Chilean government increased “health and education investments (mostly ignored under Pinochet) by 179.3 and 115 percent respectively,” according to a report from Brandeis University. This social spending helped to dramatically lower poverty; every percentage of growth Chile experienced between 1990 and 1996 counted 50 percent more to the reduction of poverty than under Pinochet’s regime. Ultimately, the poverty rate fell from 39 percent to 20 percent from 1990 to 2000. In comparison, poverty across South America only fell from 48 percent to 44 percent.

Of all social expenditures, education received the most attention and made the greatest impact. During the 1990s, spending on education grew at a rate of 10.6 percent annually and 274 percent cumulatively over the entire decade. The same Brandeis study mentioned above found that the increases in education spending were particularly effective in decreasing the severity of poverty in Chile.

However, Chile’s expansion, while exceptional, has not exactly been miraculous. According to the Brookings Institute, Chile has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world. Unfortunately, Chile’s education system, particularly higher education, suffers from a similar form of stratification even though it has expanded by 33 percent in the past two decades. In terms of enrollment, 62 percent of Chileans from the upper 20th percentile in income attend institutions of higher education. By contrast, only 21 percent attend from the lower 20th percentile.

While Chile has developed rapidly, due in large part to social spending in education, it has left many of its poorest behind. With the current president Michelle Bachelet planning further tax increases to provide free education to all Chileans, it is possible that another miracle may be on the horizon.

– Andrew Logan

Sources: BBC, Bloomberg, Brandeis University, Brookings Institute, Forbes, IFPRI, MIT Poverty Action Lab, University of Hawaii
Photo: SnipView