Scores of people have taken to the streets in Chile in order to call attention to what they view as major problems with the country’s educational system.
Chilean authorities estimate that approximately 25,000 people participated in a peaceful march on Thursday in the capital city of Santiago. The demonstrators unfurled a massive flag at the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center with the phrase: “Free and high quality public education.”
“This is not a final list but it’s an invitation to debate the education we want,” said student protest leader Andrés Fielbaum at a press conference prior to the march. Among the suggestions made were greater financial support from the state to the public educational system and guaranteed freedom of expression for students on campuses.
The march occurred one week prior to the fortieth anniversary of the coup that brought strongman Augusto Pinochet into power. The date did not go unnoticed by some of the protesters who called for a “break from the legacy of the dictatorship.”
“(September 11, 1973) represents a date split the country and promoted, amid the torture and murder of thousands of Chileans, the beginning of a political and economic system whose disastrous consequences are still being felt,” declared student protest organizer Diego Vela.
The rally was marred by clashes between police and about dozen people that left at least five individuals injured. Officers used water cannons and fired tear gas against “masked men” armed with hammers an crowbars who vandalized businesses and a Transantiago bus stop
Today’s march was the latest action by a student protest movement that staged hunger strikes, sit-ins and other protests doing the summer of 2011. President Sebastian Piñera had made some concessions but the protests reignited this year with demonstrators urging the fundamental transformation of the educational system.
As Fielbaum said recently, Piñera has done little to improve the educational system and expressed caution with the candidates running in this November’s presidential election:
“Piñera’s words only “reaffirm that for him education is conceived as a business and not a right,” he said. “The only option left for students is to further strengthen their movement.” Fielbaum later announced the “intensification of the protests until the end.”
The 26-year-old mathematics and engineering graduate student said “politicians should not forget that this is an election year and that students will remain a major player when it comes to discussing the project country."
(Former president) Michelle Bachelet, the candidate favored to win the election, supports educational reforms. Fielbaum however reminded students, "it is very easy to make promises in an election year."Chile isn’t the only Latin American country where protests over education have been held. Several thousand teachers blocked the roads leading to Mexico City’s main international airport today in opposition to a government-backed education reform plan.
The plan, which was overwhelmingly backed by the Mexican Senate yesterday, would obligate teachers to take periodic and mandatory tests to in order to keep their jobs.
"The inheritance and sale of jobs has ended," Education Secretary Emilio Chuayffet said after the bill was passed while teachers' union leader Francisco Villalobos declared “The only way to defend what is being taken from us today is through mobilization.”
Video Source– YouTube via user Actualidad Tuteve
Online Sources – Pulitzer Center; Al Jazeera English; El Universal; La Nacion; La Tercera; Prensa Latina; Terra Chile