Since May tens of thousands of students are demonstrating against an unfair educational system. The protests are the biggest since 1989; the year, in which Chile returned to democracy. In the past few weeks more than 100.000 students alone have been gathering in the capital Santiago de Chile. Their main demand is a fundamental reform of the education sector. The Chilean education system is to great extent privatised. Free higher education has been abolished since 1981 as Pinochet introduced a neo-liberal course of policy. Further, it was ordered that the financing of the education institution is the township's' responsibility. Yet, communal budget is exhausted; public financing can thus only cover 25 percent of the costs. Since public education faces immense difficulties, the market for private institutions is booming. Up to 60 percent of students feel impelled to enroll at a private university. Yet, monthly tuition fees account up to 900 US$. Hence, most students are forced to enter the labor market with a mountain of debt; upon graduation, the average student faces debt in the amount of 60.000 US$.
The Chilean economy reports a steady growth. Now students demand, that the government invests in the commodity of education. The protesters regard high-quality education as a democratic virtue, which must not serve private profit. By now, a large part of the population supports the students' concerns. Therefore, demonstrations are expanding; the catalog of demands is continuously growing. A typical snowball-effect is under way! The education sector remains the focus, but heated discussions revolve around the topics of public health, housing, pension and social security. The demonstrations are a manifest of citizens' discontent. Further, the protesters ask for more than a temporary solution. The citizens demand effective and enduring reforms in order to restore social justice. The case of Chile underscores the recent trend of citizens going onto the streets to voice their disaffection with politics.
The dialog between the protesters and the government is moving slowly. President Sebastián Piñera rejects the claim of free and high-quality education; several newspapers quote him saying : “Nothing in life is free of charge”. Yet, the growing demonstrations are increasingly pressuring the Chilean government. Piñera is cautiously approaching the protesters. His administration drafted a road map for an educational reform. The plan envisions for example an agency, which should secure a high quality of education. Yet, many students dismiss the road map. The protesters describe the plan as pure cosmetic incapable of solving the structural problems.
Unfortunately, the protests are accompanied by violence. Too often violent protesters attack the police. The police does not resort from the use of force either; teargas, water cannons and batons are being employed. During a mass demonstration in late August, a 16-year-old student was fatally shot. The government launched immediately investigations; several police men have been suspended. However, many protesters fear further violence, riots and possible victims.
Text by Vanessa Eggert.