Over 100,000 high school and university students and teachers have been protesting throughout Chile since mid-June demanding reforms to the country’s education system.
To calm the demonstrations, President Sebastián Piñera announced on July 5 a US$4 billion-plan, financed using income from the copper mining industry that, he says, will make schools more efficient, affordable and competitive.
But critics want a definitive end to a system they say favors only the wealthiest districts. During the 1973-90 military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, administration of schools was passed on to municipal governments instead of the central government, stripping the latter of its role in ensuring education for the lowest-income areas.
According to economist Roberto Pizarro, students whose parents can afford high-cost private schools go to the top universities, while municipally-run schools see many of their students in lower-quality universities. Additionally, the price tag for private universities has forced many students to take out high-interest loans, which they often cannot pay after they graduate.
Piñera said the fund will increase scholarships by 70 percent and create a higher education office to monitor university quality and financing.
Camila Vallejo, leader of the Federation of Chilean Students, said the plan “is more of the same, with a few more pesos.”
“They are going to let the universities make money,” she said. “That’s nothing more than a setback.”
Vallejo said the protests will continue until the government answers their demands.
“There are non-negotiable demands here,” she said.
The demonstrations are another sign of growing opposition against Piñera and his policies. Tens of thousands marched throughout Chile in recent months against the massive hydroelectric project HydroAysén, in southern Chile. His popularity has a 65% disapproval rating, according to recent polls.