Public education is considered low quality due to what protesters say is a lack of investment in resources and teacher wages.

On Saturday, the Chilean president put his ministers on notice, as he looked to reshuffle his cabinet amid mass protests.

On Friday, more than a million people joined a peaceful rally demanding more equality in Chile.

Santiago Governor Karla Rubilar said that the protests on Friday represented “a dream for a new Chile”. 

Protests in Chile grew after a now-suspended increase to metro prices. This situation evolved to show wider societal grievances, centring on what Chileans say is a widening inequality. 

Beyond cases of looting, 19 Chileans have died and over a thousand have been injured.

Allegations of torture and abuse by state forces are set to be investigated by the UN when a delegation arrives in Chile on Monday. Chile’s human rights commission (INDH) reports that there have been 17 cases of sexual violence.   

“We are in a new reality,” said President Sebastian Pinera but by Sunday his popularity in the opinion polls had fallen according to local reports.

As Chileans unite, teachers in particular are demanding wholesale changes to education, as they call for more equality.

Luis Videla is a 58-year-old history teacher from the Colegio de San Fransciso De La Florida. He held a banner aloft calling out the government’s wealth. 

“I believe it is time to end inequality, there’s few people with lots and a lot of people with little money and it’s badly distributed,” said Videla.

“Children don’t have the education they deserve. Very few people have a lot of money. Most of us live on the margins,” he said

“One works trying to give their best so that the children and youth can aspire towards a better future.”

‘Completely private’

Chileans see education as a contentious issue where there are three types of education: private, subsidised education (half funded by the state and half private) and state education, according to Jaime Urzua Parra a professor at the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of Chile and Director of the College for Occupational Therapy in Chile.

"In Chile we have a good education, but it’s completely private, which is down to the market and not regulated by the state,” said Parra.

Public education is considered low in quality and lacking in resources and Parra said it’s down to the uneven distribution of wealth - affecting the quality of education for students.

A masked anti-government protester stands by a burning street barricade in Santiago, Chile, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
A masked anti-government protester stands by a burning street barricade in Santiago, Chile, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

“It’s so segregated, so divided, so disjointed that in only the distance of 1km we have a high school of excellent quality and nearby a precarious school which depends on the municipality,” explained Parra.

Lisette Millacoi is a 29-year-old English teacher from the Mapuche community. 

She said her school in downtown Maipu, Santiago, lacks a lot of resources and investment from the state. 

“The government doesn’t help much with classroom materials for students. We have to buy things out of our remit like clothes for school children. Nobody [in government] recognises our grievances,” she said.

Jessica Solar, a 39-year-old PE teacher works with many of the children who come from delicate situations.

“We work with vulnerable children. They arrive without having breakfast. We support them with clothing and food, useful things. They come from a context where their parents have little education. They don’t have a good job.”

She said it affects their possibilities in life.

Children as ‘criminals’

Solar said the National Minors’ Service in Chile (SENAME) should do more.

“It treats children as if they were criminals. Children committing crimes have been left in a vulnerable position or abused or not looked after by the family and it can’t be like this,” she said.

She feels that they should better invest their money, especially as around 90 percent of the children she teaches are vulnerable. 

Beyond the situation in classrooms, teachers say their futures are far from resolved too.

Millacoi said she has to work extra hours and gets very little back in return. It is a similar case for many teachers for many Chilean teachers.

“Our salary doesn’t event pay 50 percent of our work,” said Saulo Hormazabal, a 33-year-old history teacher in Santiago.

He said it doesn’t take into consideration a lot of time spent preparing classes and the frequent challenging situations from students’ life at home, were the family dynamic is often fractured.

“Poor families in Chile do not have time to talk, work and debts stifle family dialogue and it is up to teachers to pick up the pieces which work takes away from families and for us to contribute to the children’s development,” said Hormazabal.

Bullet wounds and lost eyes

This situation teachers face today has led many to take to the street.

Parra went on to the streets with his pot and pan.

“A bullet from the police hit me three days ago, who were there shooting,” he said, grazing his hand and the Red Cross had to attend to his injury, before heading to the hospital. 

Parra said others have been hit and have lost eyes. The INDH say that five deaths in the protests were the result of states forces.

“The violence is very brutal,” said Parra in reference to what he said are allegations of torture and abuses by the state forces.

The UN is set to investigate from Monday.

Teachers say they also face an uncertain future in Chile.

Parra said many teachers who have around 30 years of service retire on 350 euros per month, which isn’t enough to get by on in an expensive city like Santiago.

He said it’s a big drop from the average salary of 600 euros salary for a teacher. 

Solar has been on strike for a month and a half and is protesting the private pension system in Chile. 

Riot police chase anti-government demonstrators in Santiago, Chile, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019.  (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Riot police chase anti-government demonstrators in Santiago, Chile, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd) (AP)

One of her demands is a better pension from the AFP, the agency which oversees pensions in Chile. 

“The agency keeps people’s money, profiting from it, leaving undignified pensions which are very small,” she said.

Parra said that many teachers find themselves out of work for January and February, as most contracts for teachers run from March until December, which affects pensions.

“The problem is at the end of the year, as most teachers are hired annually and it is in December, when insecurity overwhelms us, by not knowing if we will continue working next year,” said Hormazabal.

Parra said often institutions pay teachers for the amount of classes they teach. 

“You have to oversee the amount which goes into your pension,” said Parra.

Neoliberal economics

Mario Aguilar is a 58-year-old teacher and a director of the teaching trade union in Chile. He protested alongside several of his colleagues from the union carrying banners with their logo. 

“We are tired that education has become a business, something to be consumed, that there’s an industry profiting from the basic right to education,” he said. “Everything in Chile is a market - a business and the people are tired of this.”

During the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, the “Chicago Boys”, graduates from the University of Chicago implemented wholesale free-market reforms across the Chilean economy. 

“We were one of the pioneering territories to allow the market as a means to distribute knowledge. That is why schools, high schools, colleges and other educational institutions, much like a company, focus on selling an image decorated with good results,” said Hormazabal.

Parra is a critique of how it affects education in Chile.

“It’s a neoliberal system here in Chile which generates spaces of productivity solely for big business owners and not for the workers,'' he said.

Aguilar is unhappy with the system set up for Chilean educators.

“Every day you have to compete. It’s an individualistic competition. It doesn’t allow us to breath, obliging us to work towards efficiency. Children are not happy. We’re not happy doing this,” he said.

Aguilar is taking a stand against this practice. 

“We are recuperating our right to joy and happiness to share between us and to not look at those next to us as a competitor, but rather as a colleague, a partner, a neighbour and not someone you have to defeat,” he said.

He hopes that the government will push through reforms so that everyone in the Chilean educational system can prosper.

Source: TRT World