“The future of the education struggle in Chile is uncertain, but we are very hopeful of the outcome," University of Chile academic Dr Leonora Reyes told a September 15 forum at the Queensland University of Technology. "But for sure, after this cycle of student upsurge, our country will not return to the past.”
The forum was sponsored by Australian Solidarity with Latin America (ASLA), the National Tertiary Education Union (University of Queensland) and the QUT Student Guild and was chaired by Socialist Alternative's Rebecca Barrigos.
Since April, Chile has been paralysed by huge mobilisations of students and workers. The movement is aiming to abolish fees, democratise schools and universities and make public education open to all. Thousands of students are on strike and have occupied hundreds of schools and universities.
Reyes said: “The complex events in Chile have moved well beyond a purely student movement. The current upsurge has deep roots in Chilean history."
“The students have put the Chilean neoliberal education system under severe challenge. They have anticipated a new social order in their demands.
“The current movement is built upon the secondary student movement, called the Penguin Revolution, which campaigned against privatised education in 2006.
“According to a recent report, Chile is the country with the greatest economic inequality in the OECD. It also has the most neoliberal, privatised education system. The privatisation process began under the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1980s, and continued under successive social democratic governments.
“Even in 1990, 75% of school students were in public education. Now it is only 37% and continuing to decline.
“The students are demanding that education be guaranteed as a social right. They want to see an end to public funding of private schools. They want to see public funding of schools return to at least a 50% level, and a change in the current system of education vouchers.
“The students also want constitutional reform and changes to the budget system. Despite heavy government repression, the student movement continues to grow.
"Students and teachers are now on hunger strike. Classrooms have been turned into popular local assemblies. In addition, there is now an increasing call for a referendum for the creation of a national popular assembly to change the system.
“This radicalisation is why it is so important to get the truth about the Chilean education revolt out to the international community.”