SANTIAGO – Some 80,000 students, according to organizers, took part on Wednesday in a march to demand a thorough overhaul of a Chilean educational system still marked by the legacy of the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.
The event in Santiago, convened by the Chile Students Confederation, was accompanied by smaller mobilizations in other cities.
“So far, the government has made multiple commitments: that it will demand public education, that it will end profit, that education will be free. It has not delivered, however,” Camila Rojas, leader of the Universidad de Chile Students Federation, told reporters.
Small groups of hooded militants engaged in sporadic confrontations with police throughout Wednesday’s march, the second massive student rally to express dissatisfaction with the education reform agenda of President Michelle Bachelet.
In January, the Bachelet administration launched a plan to make college free for people in the bottom half of the income distribution, promising that the initial phase would aid 70 percent of the poorest students.
But a sluggish economy led the government to retreat from that target and the implementation of the plan has been rocky.
College was free in Chile until 1981, when the Pinochet regime opened the door to a proliferation of de-facto for-profit private universities and decided that tuition rates should be set by the market.
Students have found themselves forced to take on large amounts of debt to finance their schooling, while the largely unregulated private universities have slashed admissions standards to boost total enrollment to more than 1 million in a nation of roughly 18 million people.