Chile: Students march for education reforms

May 12, 2014

Tens of thousands of students protested in Chile on May 8. It was the first march demanding education reform since President Michelle Bachelet took power on promises of deep changes.

Marchers passed through the streets of central Santiago towards the La Moneda presidential palace. The mostly peaceful protest that turned violent at the end as hooded rioters clashed with police, throwing rocks and petrol bombs.

About 1800 police officers flanked the march that student leaders estimated at 100,000-strong, but police said was closer to 40,000.

Bachelet was inaugurated for a new presidential term two months ago.
She has vowed an education overhaul funded by a corporate tax increase in response to the millions of people who have taken part in protests since 2011.

Students have been demanding deep changes to a system suffering from poor-quality public schools, unprepared teachers and expensive private universities.

After years of staging huge marches demanding free, quality education, they say the government is finally on the right course. But they say it’s not enough and they want to be part of the reform.

Universidad Catolica student leader Naschla Aburman said: “I think these projects are aimed in the right direction, but it’s unfortunate that there is no process of participation and debate.”

The student protests began during Bachelet’s 2006-10 presidency.
She appeased some students by naming a commission including several of their leaders and by shuffling her cabinet, but many others were left disappointed.

Universidad de Chile student leader Melissa Sepulveda said: “What we’ve done so far is inject more money to the same system that segregates. This system generates one type of education for the rich and another for the poor.”

Some of the leaders of the 2011 protests were eventually elected to the lower house of Congress. They include Camila Vallejo — the most high-profile figure — who won a seat in the legislature on the Communist Party ticket.

Provisionally supporting Bachelet, Vallejo and other 2011 movement leaders retain links to the current generation of student activists and they attended the May 8 march.

[Reprinted from the Morning Star Online.]

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