SANTIAGO – Several thousand Chilean students marched in this capital on Tuesday to protest what they see as an inadequate proposal for education reform put forward by center-left President Michelle Bachelet, who took office in March.
The second major student demonstration in two months was joined by many high school and university instructors.
Bachelet, who previously governed Chile from 2006-2010, promised during the 2013 campaign to significantly overhaul an educational system that funnels state subsidies to private institutions even as public schools in poor areas struggle.
She also pledged to move in the direction of eliminating school fees, though at a measured pace.
But leaders of the student movement are not happy with the incremental proposals Bachelet recently sent to Congress.
The movement will not be satisfied with “makeup on the educational model,” Chile Students Federation president Melissa Sepulveda said Tuesday.
Students say their organizations were not consulted during the drafting of the legislative proposals and that the plan does not represent a real break with the current educational regime, itself a legacy of the 1973-1990 Pinochet dictatorship, which slashed central government support for public schools and encouraged privatization.
“They want to do a reform in 100 days without listening to anyone,” Naschla Aburman, president of the Universidad Catolica Student Federation, said during Tuesday’s protest.
Bachelet has tried to reassure the students that she plans more ambitious reforms in the future.
“We understand there is impatience, but the bills that have to do with university reform come after the first 100 days of the administration,” she said Tuesday.
Even so, student and faculty organizations have announced plans for a national mobilization on June 25.
While organizers said some 40,000 people turned out for Tuesday’s march in Santiago, police estimated participation at 15,000.
Students also protested in the cities of Valparaiso, Concepcion, Temuco, Valdivia, Copiapo and Arica.
In 2011, Chilean college and high school students took to the streets in large numbers more than 40 times to press the right-wing government of President Sebastian Piñera to improve education.
The scale and persistence of the protests turned the leaders into national figures and several are now in Congress.
Students want the elimination of school fees, an end to for-profit universities – technically illegal but able to operate thanks to loopholes – and a reduction in the high cost of college, which forces many to take on crushing debt.