Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Three Initial but Insufficient Steps to Transform the Chilean “Neoliberal Experiment” in Education

The Chilean educational system is experiencing a notorious process of discussion, both inside the country and also by international watchers. Spurred on by the 2011, 2012 and 2013 student movement, educational reform introduced by the new Michelle Bachelet administration has been placed on the front burner of public consciousness and focus in the country. At the heart of this reform is the need to transform the current status of the country, from the “neoliberal experiment” which has the highest level of segregation among the OCDE countries, to a more equal and just society. In many debates the current administration has made explicit its goal of making education a social right, just as students movements have demanded.

The reform has three main goals: 1) ending profit making in primary and secondary public education; 2) the elimination of copayments of tuition fees to enter schools that receive public subsidies and tax-based funds, which will imply that private subsidize schools will change to public schools; and, 3) the enforcement of bans on primary and secondary schools’ selection of students.

This reform has been approved by the first House of Representatives and now will be discussed in the Senate. It seems as an alternative model to the legacy of Pinochet’s Dictatorship (1973 – 1990), nevertheless, a series of neoliberal educational policies imposed during this regime has not yet being proposed for transformation, among them: the vouchers system that privatized the educational system, the educational management system by municipalities, and the national standardized/accountability learning outcome test (Education Quality Measurement System - Sistema de Medición de Calidad de la Educación, SIMCE).

Different political activist organizations and students federations, such as Alto al SIMCE, Nodo XXI, and Fech have shown that guaranteeing education as a social right will eventually lead to transform these specific policies. At stake is the direction that the country will take in regards to education and the values that the Chilean society will promote and defend. From the other side, a parent organization of private schools that receive public funding, with few adherents but with a lot of public attention and political articulation, have argued that this reform might lead to schools closing, and in articulation with conservative politicians and political organization have raised questions about the constitutionality of this reform, specifically in regards to the freedom of education principle stipulated in the current Constitution - written in 1980 during Pinochet’s Dictatorship.

Chile is starting to take a direction that challenges the current status quo imposed in the 1980s, far from contradicting the freedom of parents to choose the education for their children, as some observers have argued and conservative groups believe, is creating the conditions by which freedom is no longer considered a private good. Under the principle of equal dignity of all human beings, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has established, we can see that the goals of current educational reform are the first three steps to improve and heal the current inequalities of the Chilean society. But to overcome the limits of Pinochet’s heritage, eventually we will have to discuss the best financial and management system of public education, a debate that should be connected with a discussion about the Constitution – specially in regards to what the right to education and freedom of education should mean.  

by Mauricio Pino Yancovic

Mauricio Pino Yancovic, is a Ph.D Student in the Educational Policy, Organization and Leadership Department - Global Studies in Education Division. MA in Ethnopsychology, was a professor of the Catholic University of Valparaíso in Chile, where he worked in teacher professional development programs and researched teachers transforming identity in the context of the new Chilean teacher evaluation and incentives system.

The Forum on the Future of Public Education strives to bring the best empirical evidence to policymakers and the public. The Forum draws on a network of premier scholars to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions facing P-20 education.

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