Schools reflect segregation in the Chilean education system

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Girls in a classroom at the República de Ecuador school in Viña del Mar, Chile. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

VALPARAÍSO/VIÑA DEL MAR, Chile, May 27, 2014 (IPS) – The decentralization of Chilean public schools, entrusted to the municipalities in 1981, led to a de facto segregation that darkened several generations of Chileans.

Patricia Durán and Erna Sáez are the principals of two municipal schools in the Valparaíso region, on the Pacific coast 140 km northwest of Santiago.

They both get up before dawn and have long working days as principals of primary schools with pupils aged 4 to 14 years old.

But the realities they face every day couldn’t be more different.

The Durán school is attended by 167 girls and boys, 90% of whom come from poor and marginalized families. San Judas Tadeo School is located on a steep slope of San Juan de Dios hill in Valparaíso, the regional capital.

“In many cases, their fathers or mothers are in prison or are drug addicts or alcoholics, and the only hope these children have for the future is the education we can give them,” Durán said.

“Social risk and vulnerability are fought with affection,” Durán told journalists from several South American countries who visited the school, invited by IPS.

“We are very concerned about keeping the school clean for them, because we know that at home they often don’t have access to even the most basic hygiene,” she added.

The school is open from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and serves children breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, funded by the national school aid and scholarship office, JUNAEB.

The school is mainly made of wood and sheet metal, the materials used in the poorest constructions in Chile; classrooms are small and every square inch is used. But the staff make sure everything is tidy, colorful and bright.

The playground of San Judas Tadeo Elementary School on San Juan de Dios hill in Valparaíso, Chile.  Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

The playground of San Judas Tadeo Elementary School on San Juan de Dios hill in Valparaíso, Chile. Credit: Diana Cariboni/IPS

Fifteen minutes up the hill, in the center of Viña del Mar – a city described as the tourist capital of Chile – Erna Sáez runs the República del Ecuador school, attended by some 500 girls, about half of whom come from families low income.

“At 7:30 a.m., the inspector stands on the doorstep to check that all the girls are well dressed, with their hair and clean,” says Sáez, who adds that none of the students come from a family. . poor that they are really hungry.

Nevertheless, 260 meals are served in a cafeteria furnished with colorful chairs and tables. Classes are given in two shifts: from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and students are transported by bus to and from the school.

The large two-story building was completely rebuilt after the 2010 earthquake. It is a solid brick-and-mortar building with large, well-lit classrooms, a huge computer lab, a science lab, a large playground and gymnasium.

Both schools have libraries, but the differences in size and number of books is another reflection of the gap between the two schools.

In Chile, however, the divide is not between poorly funded public schools and well-funded private educational institutions. These two schools are public, but they depend on municipalities with very unequal access to funds.

Viña del Mar benefits from the abundant income brought by tourism and the city has a poverty rate of 15%. In neighboring Valparaíso, 22% of the local population is poor, compared to a national average of 14%.

Valparaíso is the city with the largest number of slums in the country, and a good third of Chile’s slum dwellers live in the Valparaíso region.

And of 50 countries measured in 2010 in terms of social segregation in schools by the International Institute for Educational Planning of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Chile was the most unequal, with 53 points – far more than neighboring countries such as Uruguay. (38), Brazil, Argentina (39) and Colombia (40).

In 2006, tens of thousands of students took to the streets, leading a wave of protests that posed a serious challenge to the government of moderate socialist President Michelle Bachelet during her first term (2006-2010).

They demanded a reform of the education system put in place by the 1973-1990 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, which transferred the administration of public schools from the Ministry of Education to the 345 municipalities of the country and authorized the creation of subsidized private schools. by the state.

The student movement demands that public primary and secondary schools be returned to central government control.

Bachelet, who was sworn in for a second term in March this year, faces the challenge of reforming an education system that is the main source of social discontent and has driven students across the country to take to the streets again. , in even greater proportions. figures, under the administration of former right-wing president Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).

In almost every country in the world, the state is the main provider of education, as a public service.

But in Chile, any individual or institution can open a school, wherever they want. And if they are able to attract students, the state must pay them a subsidy per student.

Subsidized private schools with a large number of students can be profitable because they also charge tuition fees to parents.

Several types of education coexist in Chile: private education, subsidized private education – for profit and non-profit – and municipal public schools.

The allocation of funds to municipal schools depends not only on the coffers of each municipality, many of which are cash-strapped, but also on aspects such as student attendance levels.

When attendance is low, funding goes down – and this has serious repercussions for the poorest areas.

This kind of free market education has undermined and destroyed public education, as the following table shows:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

But it is not clear that the privatization of the education system has improved the quality of education, several experts said during a seminar for journalists organized on May 22 and 23 by IPS (Inter Press Service) in Santiago, with the support of the Norwegian government.

What stands out is the growing segregation that marks the system, said Juan Eduardo García Huidobro of the Center for Educational Research and Development (CIDE) at Alberto Hurtado University, who chaired the Education Advisory Council for Bachelet’s first term.

San Judas Tadeo School clearly needs more funding. Staff make a huge effort to maintain attendance rates and ensure that students achieve a minimum acceptable level on assessment tests – which seems to be easier to achieve at the school in nearby Viña del Mar. .

Janice G. Ball