Toward a Fairer Education System in Chile

What happens when you apply market logic to an education system?

Trine Petersen
Publication Date:
Wed, 19/02/2014 - 18:38
10 minutes

Related Videos

Giorgio Jackson, a newly elected parliamentarian and a former leader of the Chilean student movement, explains the significance of recent political and social changes in Chile and its impact on the right to education.

Chile is perhaps the purest real world example of a market oriented approach to education. Since the early 1980s, the driving force for the expansion of education was left to supply and demand dynamics in a market-oriented fashion: minimum requirements were set for the creation of new educational institutions and for receiving public funding; public and private institutions had to compete for families’ preferences; and a universal voucher system (a state subsidy paid according to the student’s monthly attendance) was established for funding private and public schools on equal terms.

The evidence shows that market-oriented reforms have increased educational inequities, in terms of social and academic segregation; social inequality of academic achievement; and school discriminatory practices. Additionally, no significant gains in the overall educational quality have been associated with market-oriented reforms in education.

The high segregation in the education system along the lines of price, quality, and the social composition of the student body, catalysed two sharply critical and powerful student movements in the last decade. Secondary students led the 2006 “Penguin Revolution” and university students led the 2011 “Chilean Winter”. The students demanded a more active role of the state in education, especially to guarantee an acceptable standard of quality and reduce inequities.

The student movements were widely supported across Chile and have had a tremendous impact on Chilean educational policy including far reaching recommendations made by the presidential advisory council on strengthening the right to access free quality education; holding the state responsible for guaranteeing quality education; establishing quality assurance institutions in education; reforming the institutional system of public school administration; and significantly modifying the current funding system. President Bachelet embraced a number of the advisory council’s recommendations and proposed a new architecture for Chilean education and will be embarking on a second term on March 11 with a mandate to hike corporate taxes to pay for an education reform.

Giorgio has been elected to parliament along with 3 other prominent leaders of the 2011 student movement. All in their twenties, these are the youngest parliamentarians ever in Chile and embody aspirations of their generation which go beyond the field of education and can be linked to larger social concerns around Chile’s unequal economic model and the country’s lack of participatory institutional structures.

As Giorgio mentions, Chile raises important questions about open society and the role of education. Is an open society possible when education is highly segregated according to ability to pay? In the Chilean system in which education has largely been privatized, and nearly 40% of all education spending comes not from the state but from households in the form of tuition fees, what are the implications for the ability of all citizens to access a quality education?