June 13th, 2011

Schools En Paro

For the past few weeks, high schools and universities across Santiago have been taken over by the students.  Essentially, when there is a “toma" the students arrive at school really early and lock the teachers out.  The idea is to demand better education and resources by preventing the schools from being able to open.

For the high school students, these protests to my understanding are almost an annual thing, and they’re pretty effective.  Public schools in Santiago are extremely under funded, but I’ve heard stories of students in the past petitioning for things like whiteboards and having the government cave in to the demands and provide them.  It may not seem like anything huge, but imagine high schools across the country all doing it at the same time.

However, for the college students, among a number of demands, their largest and most important demand is that public higher education be free.  Wait…what??  My initial reaction to hearing this demand was along the lines of “Who the hell do they think they are?!”  Being accustomed to the United States higher education system leads one to question what makes them think they have the right to go to college for free, everyone knows college costs an arm and a leg.

After some consideration, I’m still not sure I’m completely in agreement, but I understand their point.  In Chile, as I imagine it is in any developing country, the differences in social classes are very large.  While in the US your background definitely affects the opportunities available to you for higher education, Chile lacks the scholarship culture that we have.  It’s just not something they really do.  Which means that if you’re poor, you can work as hard as you want through high school, but it’s not really going to get you anywhere.  For comparison purposes, the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina is free to anyone from any country.

In addition to the schools being shut down there have been protests all over the city.  I have some friends who are teaching English in public schools and they have all been off work for the past few weeks.  There have been some signs hung up around my university and people have been passing out fliers but since we are a private institution we haven’t actually been en paro.  Well, all except for the school of history and social sciences.  Nobody is really quite sure why they’re en paro.