After much deliberation, Chilean Education Minister Felipe Bulnes agreed to meet with student leaders this Saturday, Sept. 3, to discuss their demands. The meeting is to take place in the La Moneda presidential palace, and will be hosted by President Sebastián Piñera himself.
Student leaders had already agreed to meet with the government for roundtable discussions after a brief meeting between both parties last Sunday, but until Bulnes’ announcement, no date had been set in stone.
The meeting will mark an important milestone in the student movement, which has made use of a variety of measures to get the government’s attention. Protests have ranged from mass demonstrations to education-themed flash mobs and kiss-a-thons – one of which is currently scheduled for Thursday.
“This dialogue is a step towards building trust and normalizing the country” said Senate President Guido Girardi “The school takeovers and demonstrations have to end”.
At the meeting, Piñera is expected to tackle a list of 12 points presented by student leaders of the Chilean Student Confederation (Confech) on Aug. 23.
The demands include guaranteeing free education as a constitutional right and improving access to education for low income applicants in the form of grants and scholarships, as well as greater recognition for indigenous student rights and ending municipal oversight of low-performing schools.
The document additionally calls for an end to for-profit educational institutions, a point that ties in to the demand of eliminating the role of private banks in financing tuition loans.
Of the items on the list, the demand to guarantee free education as a right has been deemed to lack any common ground between either party. The same can be said about the end to profiteering in schools.
Technically, earning profit from owning and managing schools is illegal under the Chilean Constitution. The existence of numerous private institutions throughout Chile bears testament to the way this norm has been overlooked.
The awkward legal contradiction has been the reason behind a bill recently introduced by the Piñera administration, which proposes to legalize education as a commodity legitimately bought and sold. For this reason, student leaders have called on the government to freeze deliberations on any bills throughout discussions.
According to El Mercurio, Piñera asked members of his conservative coalition to vote against any bills that call for an end to profit in education.
“While there seems to be a genuine will on behalf of both parties to resolve both conflicts, there are certain visions that are going to make the resolution more difficult,” Andrea Rodriguez, education professor at the Universidad de Santiago, told The Santiago Times on Tuesday. “On behalf of the government, there seems to be more of a focus on short-term conflict resolution.”
According to Rodriguez, this conflicts with the students’ demands that are focused on deeper, long-term changes.
Rodriguez’s assessment is in line with a comment made by Confech spokesperson Camila Vallejo to Chilean daily El Mostrador in mid-August, in which she says that improving the education system is not the objective of the student movement. “We need a new system altogether.”
By Ivan Ebergenyi - The Santiago Times