October 2011: Global March members and partners will have seen or read international media reports of the growing protests in Chile involving students, teachers and members of the public alike demanding free public education and an end to profit in both secondary and higher education. The protests have been going on since May 2011 and there appeared to be a breakthrough earlier this month when talks were agreed with the government. However, these talks have broken down and Chilean students have called a new general strike to demand free, quality education for all in Chile.
Chile has seen education increasingly becoming a commodity rather than a vital public service. According to reports, over the last thirty years enrolment in city schools has fallen from 75 to 42 per cent, and in the last 15 years 707 municipal schools have closed, and 2,540 private schools (subsidised by the state) have been opened. The resulting competition for resources means that access to the best quality education is now restricted to those who can afford it. The Chilean education system has become one of the key sources of growing inequality between rich and poor.
The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) points out that the Chilean government has not only failed to heed to the demand for free public education for all, but also aggravated conflict as the social movement has been criminalised with the banning of public demonstrations. The extreme clampdown of the student protests by the authorities led to the tragic death of a 16-year-old boy in late August after he was shot by a police officer.
Students have also participated in hunger strikes and some as young as 14 have sought legal advice in their negotiations with school administrations. They have organised school sleep-ins, school seizures and dance mobilisations. According to GCE, around 1,300 people remained in detention at the end of August 2011. The latest call for a national student strike is being supported by the trade union movement which is calling for a two-day work stoppage on 18-19 October 2011.
Chile’s National Forum on Quality Education, the Latin American Campaign for the Right to Education (CLADE), the Global Campaign for Education (GCE) and Global March Against Child Labour support the demands of the Chilean student movement for respect for the fundamental right to free, good quality state education.
“All children, whatever their background and circumstances, are deserving of the best education they can get, provided by the state and free of any direct and indirect costs,” said Global March Chair Kailash Satyarthi. “To reinforce social divisions between the haves and the have-nots through access to basic public services, and especially education, is a step backwards and flies in the face of the Education For All initiative. Those who will suffer most will be the most vulnerable society and a system based on ability to pay will inevitably increase the incidence of child labour and deny a generation access to their most fundamental rights.”
The GCE has set up a web page to facilitate international solidarity with the students and teachers of Chile. Global March calls on all members and partners to visit the web site and sign the online petition to the Chilean President to heed the calls of the protesters, ensure access to education for all and to end its repressive actions against protesters.
To access the web page of the GCE and sign the online petition, click here