Avocado Republic — 25 September 2014

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“The Avocado Republic of Chile, because it’s too Cold to Grow Bananas” is Chile’s ultimate tour guide.  Laugh-out-loud funny and insightful.  American writer, Walker Rowe, sick of the pollution and noise in Santiago moves to the country for peace and quiet.  What he did not know is when you move to the country, you exchange one set of problems for another. Click through the arrows to read.


Walker Rowe

The Avocado Republic of Chile Chile Independence Day Dust and Dirt in Rural Chile
Chaos at the Local School The Market Earthquakes
Love and Romance in Chile The Chilean Concept of Time My Vegetable Garden
The Compost Pile There is no Heat in Chile Drinking Burgoyne
Chilean Food is Boring and Bland Rodeo in Chile The Caretaker
The Cactus Garden Watching the Southern Skies Oscar’s Adventures
Things Fall Apart Argentina’s Dark Culture Rene, the Communist
Chewing Coca Leaves The Mapuche Conflict Cuasimodo


25 September 2014

I took a run, as I do every day, to the end of the road where the pavement starts.  I passed the tiny Pentecostal church with a swimming pool (It costs $5 to go swimming, even for atheists like me.), three Great Pyrenees that guard one neighbor’s house, the three friendlier dogs that run out to greet me and, thank goodness, do not bite me, as I pass by, and a Swiss Chalet, which obviously belongs to the Swiss Miss.

As I came near to where the pavement starts, 1 km from my cabin, the roar of children let me know that I was approaching the elementary school.  Like a recent World Bank Study says, kids in Chilean schools are running wild.  The report says the teachers have no control over the classroom, no assistant or experienced teacher to help or mentor them, and are among the worst paid teachers among the OECD countries.  A teacher in Chile earns $750 USD per month, 85% are female, and many are the first in their family to attend college.

As I looked at the tall fence that surrounds the school I wondered whether the fence was to keep pedophiles and thieves out or to keep the rampaging kids in.

The quality of education and the need to boost teacher salaries is not under discussion here in Chile, except by those who oppose the proposed education reform as a means to derail it.  Rather it is the tuition.  The student movement, led by the Communist Party, wants education to be free.  It should be free.  40% of kids attend state-subsidized schools, where they pay tuition.  A smaller percentage attend the completely free public schools.  The well off send their kids to private school. Public school should be free. It is everywhere else.  But in Chile, where one has to pay the parking meter even at the emergency room of the hospital, paying for everything is the norm.

The real crime here is the university tuition and how long kids go to school.  Kids in Chile go to school for 6 to 8 years to get a bachelor’s degree that would take 4 years to finish in USA.  Most graduate $20,000 USD in debt in a country where they might earn $2,000 per month or $4,000 per month.  Doctors earn only $1,500 in the public hospitals. When graduates cannot pay, they are blacklisted by the American-owned credit rating agency DICOM. Get your name listed in DICOM and you cannot even rent an apartment. Most kids do not rent an apartment or buy a home.  They live with their parents until they are 30 years old.  In the USA, we expel our youth from the nest at 18.

The public universities here are public only in name.  They are not supposed to earn a profit, but have managed to find ways around that by leasing their facilities back to themselves.  There is hardly any money spent on research, since it all goes to whoever is collecting the profit.  So there are no research universities here unlike, say Princeton or Stanford, nothing to push the culture forward, which is the purpose of a university in the Wittenberg sense of the word, whose medieval university, the first in Europe, was funded by German princes for that reason.  The Chilean universities should change the length of the degree programs to 4 years and 1/2 of the classes should be taught in English to draw international students and research funding and boost their standing in the world and their quality here at home.  But that is my idea.

The Bachelet government came to power promising to wring the profit out of education and make tuition free for everyone, including those at private universities.  Her tax bill to pay for that just passed.  Her education bill is making its way through the legislature.  There is enormous pressure on the education minister to deliver.  The first one already resigned.

The last 10 years in Chile have seen student protests that this year have gone quiet.  Those protests usually turned violent as lumpen took advantage of the peaceful protest to wreak havoc.  They throw Molotov cocktails, bash in store fronts, and tear down street signs.  The police fight back with tear gas and water cannon. The students have calmed down now, because their leaders have come to power in the congress and they have a voice at the table.  There are 6 student leaders turned to congressmen from the Communist Party and 1 independent.  They have the support of the Socialist Party. The President is from the Socialist party. The majority of the people agree with the student leaders, except the right wing, i.e., the UDI and RN politicians. But what is interesting is that the opposition disagree on tactics and not principle.  They want to raise teacher pay, but not pay for the upper class to go to school.  Here in Chile a consensus will be reached and something passed into law.  That is much better than the American Congress, where there never is agreement, and nothing gets passed into law.  Bachelet got her tax law passed in the first 4 months of her government, with the agreement of the opposition. Obama took an entire year to pass his health bill over the protests of the opposition.  Consequently they have been attacking it since.

While the student protests have gone silent, there remains a dedicated few high school students who cannot be appeased it seems even when they get what they ask for.  These mainly are the students at the National Institute, the number one public high school in the country.  Several Chilean presidents have graduated from there. It is very competitive.  Now it has been very much tarnished.

In Europe and the USA, the teacher expels the student.  In Chile, it works the other way around.  The students take over the school in what is called a toma (which means to take). The police do not evict them. The mayor of Santiago does nothing.  These seizures go on for months at a time.  Meantime the students have destroyed the building, spraying paint, breaking windows, and of course making it impossible for kids who want to study to go to school.  The firemen entered to put out a fire there, and then left when it was extinguished. Before Bachelet came to power, these tomas were widespread.  Now that the students have their agenda before the legislature they are less common.

So many days have been lost at Chile’s #1 high school that kids will have to repeat the year.  Some kids have taken to holding classes off campus.  The diehards remain, camped out in the National Institute 24×7.  Some kids have tried to enroll in private schools to escape the madness.   The rectors at those schools usually tell them, “We don’t want any militants here.”

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(4) Readers Comments

  1. Universities in Chile do carry out research, funded by state organisms such as CONICYT.

    • Hi Lucia. Thanks for commenting. I mean it like this. In the USA universities have an endowment. Rich people when they die often leave their entire estates to a university. So the schools have lots of money to fund pure research. Harvard is not too expensive to attend because they have so much money in the bank that its interest covers a lot of the tuition. The great research universities are Stanford, MIT, Harvard, and a dozen more. CONICYT is Chilean government. Why don’t the greedy billionaires here donate money to build research centers at the universities here? It would also help it they taught classes in English so that foreign professors and students will come.

  2. Plus you forget to mention that the minimum wage in chile is currently. 350 usd a month. So if a teacher does earn 750 (haven’t checked) then that’s considered fantastic, actually approximately double the average income of 300000 CLP.

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