Photo: Chilean Student Protests
Tens of thousands of students took to the streets of this capital and other Chilean cities on Thursday for another in a long series of protests calling for a radical shakeup of the nation’s educational system.
Around 100,000 young people, according to organizers, took part in a march in Santiago convened by the Confech university students confederation and groups representing high school students, with support from the teachers guild and other organizations.
Authorities estimated the size of the crowd at roughly 45,000.
The peaceful demonstration was followed by isolated clashes between police and hooded militants.
Diego Vela, president of the student federation at Catholic University, complained that even after two years of protests, the government of right-wing President Sebastian Piñera continues to push measures utterly at odds with the students’ demands.
“They say they want to move forward on getting business out of education, but they allow the continued advance of a Superintendency of Higher Education that legitimizes profit instead of ending it,” Vela said of the administration.
Chilean students took to the streets in large numbers more than 40 times in 2011 to denounce a highly stratified education system that funnels state subsidies to private institutions even as public schools in poor areas struggle.
After a relatively subdued 2012, the student movement is hoping to exert influence on this year’s presidential and congressional elections.
Chile’s public schools and universities were neglected during the 1973-1990 rule of the late Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
Private schools mushroomed under the military regime and the trend continued after democracy was restored, even during the 1990-2010 tenure of the center-left Concertacion coalition.
Students want the elimination of school fees, an end to for-profit universities - technically illegal but able to operate thanks to loopholes - and a reduction in the high cost of college, which forces many to take on large debts.