[As used to be said on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In (the 60s predecessor to Colbert and Stewart and Maher), "Vellly Intelllesting"]
“Hundreds of students have occupied high schools and blocked traffic in Chile’s capital to demand education reform. Police in riot gear evicted students from several schools but at least seven remained occupied on Wednesday.
The changes sought by students who have been protesting and boycotting classes all week would fundamentally overhaul a school system that has been privatised since the 1973-90 dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
Mass demonstrations initially raised expectations for profound changes but more than a year after the first protests few students have seen any real benefits. Protesters say the system still fails families with poor quality public schools, expensive private universities, unprepared teachers and banks that make education loans at high interest rates most Chileans can ill afford.
The government plans to raise about US$1bn in taxes for education but students say it is not enough. Beyer has said the government will not cede to their demands for free education, calling it an unfair, backward-looking policy.
Last week police used water cannon to break up a march by thousands of students in a protest where hooded vandals set three city buses on fire, 75 people were arrested and 49 police officers were injured. The government criticised student leaders for allowing the march, which had been banned by Santiago’s municipal government.
Student leaders say real change will only come when the private sector is regulated and education is no longer a for-profit business.
Pinera has refused to radically change the education system. Instead he has proposed to spend about $1bn on thousands of new scholarships and lower student loan interest from an average of 6% to 2%. He says the plan, which passed the lower house and is being debated in the country’s Senate, would allow more promising students to attend the best schools in Chile and slash the financial burden on their families.
“If we’re coming to this extreme, this level of anger among students, it’s because this government has been unable to have a dialogue and give us any answers,” said Gabriel Boric, the president of the University of Chile student federation. “The arrogance of [education minister] Beyer is one of the main reasons why students have taken control of high schools and we’re studying similar measures for next week.”
President Sebastian Pinera’s approval ratings have plunged with the protests making him the most unpopular Chilean leader since the country returned to democracy in 1990.