On 25 April, EI joined Chilean education unions on a massive march in favour of public education, taking place in the country´s capital, Santiago. Over 50.000 people called for the fundamental right to quality education to be guaranteed and funded by the state.
EI’s affiliate, Colegio de Profesores de Chile (CPC), has been leading the initiative to end profit-driven education and to recover a national education system managed by the state.
Fragmented education system
In Chile, there is neither a national curriculum nor a central education budget. Each local council runs its schools and they define their own educational line, including a 'standard for admission' of students.
There are several private consultants (the so -called technical education agencies), which design the annual plan at a cost of US$15,000 dollars. Families receive vouchers and must pay the school they can afford.
This fragmented education system resembles a chain of agencies – similar to a chain of supermarkets or some other business - competing with each other, and with the private sector, to attract clients and make a profit.
One of the most troubling issues for unions is the de-professionalisation of teaching. Due to the Education Act passed in 2006, non-qualified teachers are now allowed to work as teachers (Article 46g).
The teaching profession is precarious, with salaries 40 per cent lower than for other equally-qualified professionals andwith highly unstable working conditions. Recent studies show that 16 per cent of teachers in Chile suffer from anxiety disorders and depression.
In addition, the lack of public resources to meet teacher training and retraining requirements means that teachers must pay for their own learning and development.
Trade unions claim that Law 20,501 passed in 2011, supposedly created to evaluate teaching staff, actually imposes new penalties on teachers and is, in effect, a new tool for dismissal.
This law allows school management to dismiss teachers and hire any professional with only eight months of university studies in any field. It also affects labour and social rights, including the right to maternity leave and nursery access.
The EI delegation present at the march included EI Deputy General Secretary, David Edwards, Latin America’s chief regional coordinator, Combertty Rodriguez, and both President and Vice President of EI's Latin America Regional Committee, Hugo Yasky and Fatima da Silva.
The trade union leaders met with teachers, academics and students’ organisations. They also met with the Chilean Education Minister Harald Beyer and shared their concerns about his unwillingness to listen to the legitimate demands made by social organisations.
In addition, the delegation met representatives from the International Labour Organisation in Chile, raising concerns from the global educational community regarding the “historic debt” that Chile still owes to thousands of teachers since the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet.
The EI delegation will also be part of the First National Meeting of Organised Teachers, from 27-28 April, which will bring together teachers from both the public and private sector, both subsidised and unsubsidised, for the first time.
"This march shows the Chilean people´s firm conviction that education is a fundamental and universal right," stated EI Deputy General Secretary, David Edwards.
Edwards stressed the need for a profound reform of the Chilean educational system to create an alternative to neoliberal education policies. "A process in which teaching unions are and will continue to be key players in the recovery of a non-elitist education system, open to everyone," he said.