World Views
6:37 am
Thu May 2, 2013

How Segregation in Chile’s Education System Breeds Discontent

Protesters gather in Santiago, Chile - August 21, 2011
Credit Francisco Osorio / Flickr
Listen to Mario Waissbluth's full interview with Suzette Grillot

Students in Chile took to the streets of Santiago again last month protesting for reform of the country’s education system.

The BBC reports the students started a second wave of protests this decade in 2011, but the April demonstration was the first of 2013.

Mario Waissbluth teaches industrial engineering at Universidad de Chile. In 2008 he founded Educación 2020, a nongovernmental organization that wants to improve primary and secondary education in the country.

“Forty percent of the kids that go out to university don't understand what they read,” Waissbluth told KGOU’s World Views. “And they are grabbed by a university sector completely and fully deregulated, for profit, which abuses them to the point that we've had the explosions that we've had.”

There’s a perception that even though Chile has some of the best schools in Latin America, only the children of the ultra-rich have access to that quality of education.  

“We have truly what I call an ‘apartheid in education’ in Chile,” Waissbluth says. “And in that situation, it's almost impossible that the poor kids will come out of their situation. They are marked. We have longitudinal studies, and they are marked since they are 36 months old. Their future is already cast.”

Waissbluth says Educación 2020 has helped infuse Chile’s public education sector in Chile with roughly $400 million, and has stopped laws that would enhance the socio-economic segregation in Chile’s school system.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

On how neoliberalism influences Chile’s education system

The U.S. would probably be considered socialist compared to Chile. In everything - education, in health, in pensions, in taxes and whatever. And your well-being depends on yourself. There is a very, very, very weak public sector to care for the poorest. The result of that in schools can be described by the Rule of the 40 Percent. Less than 40 percent of preschool-aged children go to preschool, especially the poor ones. 40 percent of the kids that come out of basic school don't understand what they read. That's mostly the poor.

On where he thinks his organization has succeeded so far

The headmasters in public schools in Chile, where you won't believe this, appointees by Pinochet in 1990 they were in their posts 15 years later. So we have achieved that now headmasters have to be appointed by a contest, and with better salaries. We've been able to stop, in parliament, laws that would enhance segregation in Chile. You have to understand that the people in government now are not the sons of people who worked with Pinochet, but the same guys. Not their children. So they have been trying to push laws which go even further into segregation.

On why he thinks the Educación 2020 movement has been successful

We are not the type of movement that goes out with sticks in the streets, but we dialogue with the students who are in the streets. We dialogue with the Communist Party. We dialogue with the extreme right. We dialogue with experts in education. That's another source of our influence. Everyone recognizes in us someone who they can talk with. They all recognize, be they in agreement or not with us, that we speak the truth. When we show data, the data are real. We're not twisting the data to push some argument. So by being professional and serious, we've been able to gain the trust of the teachers union, the students, and everyone.

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

SUZETTE GRILLOT, HOST: Mario Waissbluth, welcome to World Views.

MARIO WAISSBLUTH: Thank you. Glad to be here.

GRILLOT: So you're doing some very interesting work in Chile on the education system. Can you tell us, first of all, what it is about the Chilean education system that is of concern?

WAISSBLUTH: Well, Chile's a very paradoxical country, and we have to distinguish high school and primary school education from university, because they're two separate worlds. Maybe I should start by saying that Chile has probably the most neoliberal policies in the whole world. This is not a joke. The U.S. would probably be considered socialist compared to Chile. In everything - education, in health, in pensions, in taxes and whatever.

GRILLOT: So it's a highly privatized society in terms of...

WAISSBLUTH: Completely. And your well-being depends on yourself. That's essentially the point.

GRILLOT: No public welfare...

WAISSBLUTH: There is a very, very, very...

GRILLOT: Very minimal.

WAISSBLUTH: ...weak public sector to care for the poorest. The result of that in schools can be described by the Rule of the 40 Percent. Less than 40 percent of preschool-aged children go to preschool, especially the poor ones. 40 percent of the kids that come out of basic school don't understand what they read. That's mostly the poor. 40 percent of the kids that go out to university don't understand what they read. And they are grabbed by a university sector completely and fully deregulated, for profit, which abuses them to the point that we've had the explosions that we've had. In that context, our movement is a citizen's movement. It was born four years ago. It's a long story. It was born almost by serendipity, but today we have 83,000 formal affiliates and [almost 129,000 as of this broadcast] followers on Twitter, and so many Facebook [fans]. We have presence in the media once a day on average. We have presence in Congress. We are permanent guests of the sessions of Congress related to education. So how do you build, in four years, a movement which has become so influential that we have been able to pass laws through Parliament, increase budgets in some areas, and also stop some laws that we don't think that were quite appropriate?

GRILLOT: So the goal of your organization is to enhance the quality of education being provided to the public?

WAISSBLUTH: It's actually four goals. One is the average quality. That means that the overall average goes up. We're still far, far away from the U.S. or other advanced countries in the world. Although Chile is probably, on average, the best in Latin America. But more than average quality, it's the problem of equality. There is a big, huge distance between the results that rich kids obtain compared with poorer kids.

GRILLOT: So better access for those that are poor.

WAISSBLUTH: It's not a problem of access. Everyone goes to school.

GRILLOT: Everyone goes to school, so it's not access. It's a matter of the actual quality.

WAISSBLUTH: That's the second one. The third one is social segregation of the school system. We have truly what I call an "apartheid in education" in Chile. The children of the ultra-rich study with the children of the ultra-rich. The children of the rich with the rich, and so forth down the ladder. And in that situation, it's almost impossible that the poor kids will come out of their situation. They are marked. We have longitudinal studies, and they are marked since they are 36 months old. Their future is already cast. So the third area is segregation, or desegregation of education in Chile. And the fourth is that public education in Chile has been plummeting as a result of specific policies. This policy of privatization, to give you an idea, today in the U.S. 90 percent of schools, even with charter schools working, 90 percent are public. In Chile, they were 80 percent 20 years ago. Today it's 35 percent. So we want to recover public education. That's our fourth goal.

GRILLOT: So you've been running this organization now for four years. You obviously have a significant presence at this point. So what are some of the successes that you can report? Are you starting to get the word out about this, and are you seeing any changes?

WAISSBLUTH: We have obtained very specific things so far. First, directors of schools, the headmasters in public schools in Chile, where you won't believe this, appointees by Pinochet in 1990 they were in their posts 15 years later. So we have achieved that now headmasters have to be appointed by a contest, and with better salaries. Because we know, as in all the world, that the headmaster is a very important part of the situation of the school. That's our main, so far. One of our mains. Second, we have infused within the public education sector about $400 million. That might sound little in the U.S., but in Chile that would be the equivalent of $4 billion in extra funding. We have achieved far more importance to what some feel was completely neglected, which was preschool education. That's also our job, and we're proud of it. Also, this is a paradox. We've been able to stop, in parliament, laws that would enhance segregation in Chile. You have to understand that the people in government now are not the sons of people who worked with Pinochet, but the same guys. Not their children. So they have been trying to push laws which go even further into segregation. I'm proud to say we've been able to stop those laws in their tracks in Congress.

GRILLOT: Well it sounds like you've had quite a bit of success then. The extra funding, the raised profile, some of the things you've been able to stop, and some of those things you've been able to start. And all of this from a social movement that you created about four years ago. What are some of the methods that you're using to not only create your movement, but to get the word out and to raise the profile of this issue?

WAISSBLUTH: That's something that we've been having to construct while we're going.

GRILLOT: So you're learning while you're doing.

WAISSBLUTH: (Laughs) We're learning while doing, right. But I would say that there are two or three key elements. One of them is the passion of the people that work in our offices. They believe in this, and when you have people with passion, things are different. Second, we've been able to combine passion with professionalism. We have a top head of the press area. We have people who make the community management of the social networks on the internet. We have top guys studying the policy and producing projects to take them to parliament. We have another team working in the poor schools so that we know by heart what's going on there. It's not just a matter of policy. One of our key strategies is what I call convergence. Once we have our agenda for a month, let's say, the problem of teachers' salaries, and I'm just taking one of them. Well in that month, Twitter is on salaries, Facebook is on salaries, our website is on salaries, our press releases are on teachers' salaries. Our presentations in Congress are on teachers' salaries. So we attack the issue from many communication points. We do lobby on salaries. And that way of tightening the screws has worked very well for us.

GRILLOT: So you're coming from every angle, but it sounds like social media is one of your main weapons that you're using, if you will.

WAISSBLUTH: We were born as a website, actually.

GRILLOT: So you're a digital movement from the very beginning.

WAISSBLUTH: We were born on the internet. Now we've expanded to press, to lobbying Congress, but initially we were born...

GRILLOT: You were born as a social media movement.

WAISSBLUTH: ...adhering to a manifesto on the net. So the professional management of the community, management of the internet is one of our specialties.

GRILLOT: But now are you getting people out in the streets? I mean are you...

WAISSBLUTH: No.

GRILLOT: ...organizing people in that respect?

WAISSBLUTH: We are not the type of movement that goes out with sticks in the streets. But we dialogue with the students who are in the streets. We dialogue with the Communist Party. We dialogue with the extreme right. We dialogue with experts in education. That's another source of our influence. Everyone recognizes in us someone who they can talk with. They all recognize, be they in agreement or not with us, that we speak the truth. When we show data, the data are real. We're not twisting the data to push some argument. So by being professional and serious, we've been able to gain the trust of the teachers union, the students, and everyone. They all recognize in us that we're speaking the truth.

GRILLOT: And certainly passion doesn't hurt.

WAISSBLUTH: Yes.

GRILLOT: Well Mario Waissbluth, thank you so much for being with us on World Views today.

WAISSBLUTH: Thank you for inviting me.

GRILLOT: Very interesting story you have to tell about education in Chile.

WAISSBLUTH: Thank you.

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