SANTIAGO – Tens of thousands of striking teachers marched in the Chilean capital on Wednesday to protest a proposed education reform that includes a requirement for teacher testing.
Teachers from throughout Chile traveled to Santiago for the mobilization, which brought together 100,000 people, according to organizers.
Gathering in Plaza Italia, the teachers, who have been on strike since June 1, made their way to Mapocho Station for a rally.
“With this demonstration, we hope for a good response from the (education) ministry,” teachers union leader Jaime Gajardo said on Twitter.
Representatives of President Michelle Bachelet’s administration, Congress and the teachers began talks this week on possible modifications to the education bill, but the negotiations have produced little in the way of progress.
Rejecting the idea of tinkering with the government’s text, the teachers want the bill withdrawn in favor a new draft that would incorporate their demands.
The education minister, Nicolas Eyzaguirre, said he has been “a little surprised” by the teachers’ hostility to the bill, insisting that the ministry consulted extensively with educators before putting together its proposal.
He has also criticized the teachers’ strike for harming the interest of students.
The union’s national assembly is to vote Thursday on whether to continue the walkout.
Delegates will also consider a proposal from the congressional Education Committee aimed at resolving the dispute.
The proposed “disciplinary exams” will become a tool to stigmatize teachers, according to the union, which likewise objects to the expected involvement of private, for-profit firms in the evaluation process.
“Here, the state does not open a possibility that there can be other factors that allow us to improve the quality of education,” union official Dario Vasquez said.
“There should be a policy of improvement at no cost, including improvement such that the teacher reaches the highest levels in exercising the profession, which allows that wisdom, that knowledge, to be applied in the classroom,” he said.
As many as 200,000 students and teachers turned out last Wednesday for protests in Santiago and other cities against the prospective education reform.
Chilean students began taking to the streets in massive numbers four years ago to demand the overhaul of a school system still burdened by the legacy of the 1973-1990 dictatorship of the late Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Under Pinochet, public education was neglected and for-profit schools mushroomed, a trend that continued after democracy was restored, even during the 1990-2010 tenure of the center-left Concertacion coalition.
The center-left returned to power last year with the election of Bachelet for a second term as president.
But student organizations have rejected her proposed reforms as too timid.