2016/06/03

[Chile] Students protests


One of the largest association of students in Chile has called for an unlimited strike in order to request fundamental changes in the Chilean education system: biobiochile.cl. It happened before, with very little change. One could be more hopeful this time as the President is promising to implement the gratuity of education before the end of her mandate. From the inside of one of the biggest education institution in Chile, I am not hopeful: I heard several professor express contempt at the student's demands and actions, many others acting as if those had nothing to do with them (i. e. "not my battle"), and I suspect many in the last category to secretly enjoy the reduction of classes which will permit to spend more time on academic research.


Chile's student protests were mentioned as a (positive) example in 2012 by Noam Chomsky (around 1:45 in the video below),  but I disagree, and I doubt that such demonstrations will achieve their objective in Chile. Student's protest in Slovenia, Canada and France against an increase in academic tuition fees worked for several reasons, many of which are not true in Chile. The most obvious (and most important) difference is that the latest were fighting *against* a change in the status quo, rather than asking for a change in Chile (which change implies in turn many other changes on associated issues, some of them even more difficult to change than education). Another difference is that the movements in Slovenia, Canada and France were unified, and gathered the support of the general population : none of that in Chile, where the student's association are bickering, the faculties are competing with each other, and the parents, who pay heavy tuition fees even during those strikes, push their child back to class as soon as professors warn that the semester might get totally lost.




There are other options beside conforming and protesting in the streets. I suggested to students that they "vote with their feet" and go to study elsewhere : there are many countries with free education for all, including foreigners, but Chilean are so conditioned by the system that they find it hard to believe and frightening to leave, as jailed birds who don't escape even when you leace the door of the cage open.


Some of 'my' students explored another option which properly amazed me: they organized some "open courses" where "students teach students" during the strikes, teaching topics as diverse as programming Android devices, creating a website, encrypting emails. I have been using the slogans "students teach students", and "people teach people" (and now "teaching is learning") since 2005; but even when I talked about the necessary "decentralization of education" I never imagined the students self-organizing in such a way: they have more imagination than me!

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