Student protests are very interesting to me, probably because I spent a year of my life writing a thesis on the Chilean Education system and the Revolución Pingüina of 2006. This was a series of mass protests and school take-overs, mostly by high school students. Unfortunately, since high school students massively took to the streets at that time, not much has been improved in the Chilean Education system, which, by design, favors students in the high socio-economic stratus. The Concertación government and the current Alianza administration have both passed major education laws since that time. However, they have not been enough to profoundly and structurally change the system, and therefore students have not seen any real changes. In my opinion, without major structural changes at all levels, from pre-school to graduate school, the education system here is going to continue to perpetuate Chile’s inequalities by giving preferential access to those who can pay for it.
Today’s protest was more focused on higher education, and around 20,000 students from a vast number of schools (facultades) from both traditional and private universities participated. I saw signs from Universidad de Chile, Universidad Católica, Universidad de Santiago (USACH), Universidad Autónoma, Universidad Mayor, Universidad Alberto Hurtado, ARCIS, and probably some more that I am forgetting. A number of unions, professors, adminstrators and teachers also participated.
The initial catalyst of the march was due to the fact that JUNAEB, which is the organization that manages all state scholarships, has not given out a lot of transportation and food scholarships for first year students. The school year started in March, it’s now May 12th. Another reason there tends to be protests in May is that Chile’s State of the Union Address is given every year on May 21st, and therefore students hope to bring enough attention to their cause that the president will promise some sort of change in his speech.
However, from reading the pamphlets that the marchers were giving out, the protest really had to do with reforming education in Chile, getting rid of the profit-making aspect (yes, primary and secondary schools and universities can all profit from education), and changing the system so it is more accessible to all. They sited that over 3000 students at the Universidad de Chile (the public university) can’t currently graduate because they can’t pay their student fees, and the situation is even worse in the private universities.
I was saddened to hear that, like most protests here in Chile, there were fights with the police as the day went on. According to La Tercera, 18 students were arrested.
Here are some pictures I took as the students marched down Avenida Portugal, right in front of my office.