Unequal schooling

It was five years ago that Chilean secondary students launched a protest movement that mobilized schools up and down the country and as far away as Easter Island.  The students wanted more equitable funding for elementary and secondary school education; the government of Michelle Bachelet made a few concessions but no deep reforms were made, even as the protest movement seemed to die out. (Bachelet did expand nursery school coverage, from 12 to 38 percent, during her four years in office).

This month the student protests returned with a vengeance, with additional demands for a more affordable higher education system. Over the past three decades private universities—of varying quality—have multiplied in Chile and the country now has an estimated 25 public and around 50 private universities. The number of university students has increased from 150,000 students in 1981 to 1.1 million today and two Chilean universities—the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and the Universidad de Chile—rank among the top ten higher education institutions in Latin America.The Chilean educational picture might not look too bad when compared with that of other Latin American countries, but Chile now belongs to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and sets a far higher bar for itself.  It has the worst income inequality of any OECD member country and the organization also notes corresponding high levels of mistrust among Chileans. Only 13% of Chileans express high trust in their fellow citizens, much less than the OECD average of 59%. The education system is not providing much social mobility, it seems.

The OECD report notes improvements on Chilean students’ scores on standardized tests, but that outcomes “still need to catch up with OECD standards and equity problems should be addressed.”To read the full report: http://www.oecd.org/officialdocuments/displaydocumentpdf?cote=eco/wkp(2010)40&doclanguage=en

A good background piece on Chilean education was published a few months ago in the Chilean-American Chamber of Commerce magazine: http://www.businesschile.cl/en/news/education/back-reform-school

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