The crisis that public education is living today is the logical consequence of the plan implemented by Jaime Guzmán, that is, the dismantling of public education as a possible engine of social change and limiting it to a role of coverage and technical literacy, according to the precarious labour market.

By Jorge Molina and Patricio Mery Bell

This Machiavellian dismantling plan, particularly of public schools, had its first step in the process of de-municipalisation, which in addition to generating the historical debt of teachers, segregated society into poor and rich communes, generating a social stratification of educational establishments according to their geographical location, which would determine large gaps in terms of academic performance and funding between a school located in the city centre and another, located on the periphery.

The second part of this project consisted of putting municipal schools in competition with private subsidised schools, giving much more advantages to the owners of the former so that they could create a new business with the subsidy system, inviting all political sectors (from the right to the centre-left) to be part of this carnival of profit with knowledge. These comparative advantages began to become evident, especially when an exodus of students from municipal to private subsidised schools began to take place, in the hope of achieving some upward social mobility.

However, the whole meritocratic discourse sold to the middle class with the existence of the so-called flagship schools, whose geographical location and supposedly better resources would help their children to enter university, began to crumble intensely since the earthquake of 2010, as the Piñera government closed a significant number of municipal schools (more than 50), in addition to the 818 rural schools of the same dependency closed between 2000 and 2012 due to low enrolment.

As the first justification for closing municipal schools was low enrolment and low SIMCE scores, the state began to close the most vulnerable municipal schools affected by the education crisis, and then sought justification for attacking the flagship schools, considering them to be focal points for subversive formation. Added to this is the intentional abandonment of public schools by many municipalities, waiting for the de-municipalisation to become a reality in order to get rid of this annoying charge, including the historical debt of teachers.

The reality of the Instituto Nacional itself does not have much difference with the rest of the municipal schools. However, as it has a symbolic role in our history, the local and central government have taken great pains to intensify their repressive policy in this school, which has affected all the actors in the educational community.

During the military dictatorship led by Augusto Pinochet, the municipalisation of education took place. The measure was strongly opposed by the Centro de Alumnos del Instituto Nacional (CAIN) and different political groups, such as the Partido Institutano de Oposición (PIO) and the Frente Institutano Nacionalista (FIN). Despite the rejection, in 1986 the administration of the Institute was transferred to the Municipality of Santiago. This triggered the resignation of Rector Luis Molina Palacios, who had expressed his opposition to the educational reform.

The people most affected by these policies of the jibarisation of public education are the students themselves, which is clearly reflected in the conditions in which they must study: with antiquated desks, where it is almost impossible to sit, concrete floors in poor condition its interior, unpainted rooms, unhealthy bathrooms, overcrowding of students, lack of teaching and non-teaching staff, rooms with poor lighting, no heating, among many other shortcomings.

Since 2016, the student body has shown itself to be more preoccupied with political demands than with particular and specific issues, such as de-municipalisation, as well as being more critical of the standardised evaluation model, expressed politically in the boycott of the SIMCE and the demand for a mixed education system. And in this internal process, we can see the emergence of some more radical, but minority, positions, such as the so-called “encapuchados” or “insurrectionists”, who, unfortunately, generally act on individual initiatives and often ignore the agreements made by the majority in the assembly, finally becoming groups isolated from the majority of students, who do abide by the democratic agreements of the assembly. The ideological motivations of these groups generally have a strong sense of social justice, making a profound critique of the commercialised educational model and the state as guarantor of the ruling classes; however, these groups, in addition to facilitating the infiltration of intelligence agents, play the role (for those in power) of justifying all repression, generating a feeling in the masses, unwanted by them, of the restoration of order.

Eighteen former presidents of the Republic and 34 national prizes have passed through the classrooms of the Institute. But in recent years it has suffered a consistent decline in the figures that measure performance in the university entrance examination, as occurred with the University Transition Test (PTU) in 2020 and the Transition Test (PDT) in 2021.

The decline in scores in the “nation’s first beacon of light”, as its anthem goes, began at least as far back as 2010. Here are the results for the last eleven years:

-Average: 690 points
-54 national scores

-Average: 669 points
-17 national scores

-Average: 677 points
-12 national scores

-Average: 671 points
-17 national scores

-Average: 666 points
-22 national scores

-Average: 658 points
-6 national scores

-Average: 642 points
-9 national scores

-Average: 647.4 points
-15 national scores

-Average: 647.1 points
-6 national scores

-Average: 636 points
-8 national scores

-Average: 621 points
-5 national scores

-Average: 620 points
-3 national scores

According to Clapes-UC economist and researcher Sergio Urzúa, “This crisis is terrible news for a country that demands diversity from its elites”.

According to the economist, there are at least five factors dragging the institution down that could explain the academic results it has been obtaining in recent years:

1.Lyceum in pandemic: it affected the system in general, and in particular public education, from 2020. Under the administration of Irací Hassler, the school was closed for a good part of the year.

2. Images of violence and available places: “We have seen that within the applications to the establishment there are still places available. What parent with a child of 10 or 11 years old who wants to opt for quality public education looks at these images and says: ‘this is the school for my children’? Others, such as the former rector of the University of Chile, Luis Riveros, have raised the weight of the violence at the school – which has resulted in continuous walkouts – in previous years.

3.Coldness of the political class: the whole public education system has lacked money in general, it is part of the macro problem. But the problem here is that there is a lack of political consciousness of the importance that these republican institutions had. Their demise will cost Chile dearly… This clashes with a public demand for a more diverse and down-to-earth ruling class.

4.The debacle of the emblematic high schools: they have accumulated a drop of up to 60 points in the university admission test since 2018. In 2021 they averaged 527 points. The Liceos Bicentenario, meanwhile, reached 520. The government points out that the latter are on the rise because of the number of Liceos Bicentenario that have been created.

5. Education reform of the second Bachelet government: “It is time for those who supported all these reforms years ago to start explaining themselves. Because at the beginning they shielded themselves with the difficulty of being able to identify the impact of the changes, but what we know is that, in relative terms, the Instituto Nacional and other emblematic schools are worse off than they were five years ago. Here there was work that was dressed up as technical, but had a political-ideological component”, Urzúa pointed out.

Finally, following Silva (2016), many rejoice at the eventual end of the Instituto Nacional. For the conservative and neoliberal right, it allows them to consolidate the model: there is no longer anything to counterbalance the private paid and denominational schools. The elites are even more closed.

For a more republican and liberal centre-right, the eventual disappearance of the Institute is not so terrible. In fact, they have begun to replace, with medium success, the “emblematic” high schools with bicentennial high schools. They repeat the educational formula of the 1990s and 2000s, and take credit and thanks from the educational communities.

While for a centre-left educated during the post-dictatorship in “alternative” private education, which ignores the contribution of public education, the National Institute is nothing more than a space for discrimination and neoliberal values.