photo “University Life 134” by Francisco Osorio.
22 March 2016. Santiago, Chile.
A report presented last Thursday by The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) described the educational situation in Chile as “alarming”, reports La Tercera.
The UNICEF document compared inequalities in income, education, health, and general life satisfaction of the children in the 41 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and in the European Union (EU).
Specifically, in terms of education, the report took into consideration the results of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which tests the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in order to examine education systems around the world.
According to the report, Chilean students demonstrated a low level of comprehension, with nearly a quarter of the students lacking the necessary understanding to complete basic exercises in reading, mathematics, and science.
Sebastián Donoso, an academic at the Institute of Educational Investigation and Development for the University of Talca, says that the report illustrates that Chile is not educating its people well. He believes that the country’s educational system has been in ruins since the 1980s, and no one has succeeded in reconstructing it efficiently.
An investigator for the Center of the Comparative Politics of Education at Diego Portales University, Cristóbal Villalobos, agrees, saying that the report reaffirms the importance of reforming education to create uniformity among schools, give more support to vulnerable schools, and encourage collaboration between schools.
The results of the study have been released at a very relevant time for Chile, as the government under President Bachelet of the Socialist Party is currently trying to pass an educational reform bill.
At the moment, the government has already passed a law to make grade school free. Before that, the cost of public school was paid for by the parents of each student. They also doubled the salary of teachers and attempted to regulate the quality of the teachers by enacting more teaching evaluations.
But Bachelet wants more reform. One of the goals of her reform program, described La Tercera in January of last year, is to make university education free to all students, like it was under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Right now, only students from the poorest half of the population can go to university or vocational school without cost, writes La Tercera. The remainder of students face relatively high education costs. For example, in 2016, tuition at the University of Chile ranged between $3,700 and $7,600 USD. Given that half of the people in Chile earn less than $5,280 per year, this education cost is high.
Bachelet’s proposed changes in education have gotten delayed three times because the falling revenue caused by a decrease in the value of copper meant that the reform couldn’t get funded.
However, last Friday, Daniela Muñoz of La Tercera explained that the Ministry of Education has been meeting to discuss pre-legislative plans for the higher education reform. The minister of education, Adriana Delpiano, told La Tercera that she hopes the ministry can meet with the president within the next two weeks to confirm plans for various aspects of the reform.
Yet several sectors of the New Majority, an electoral coalition consisting of the center-left political parties, are resisting the advancement of the reform. Ignacio Walker of the Democratic Christian party is among those who think that the reform project is not ready to go to Congress, because the New Majority has not yet agreed on all aspects of it.
The financing of the reform is one of the main points on which the sectors disagree. This is a key part of the project, because there has to be some way to pay for the education if the students no longer pay tuition.
The Socialist Party is also still trying to formulate its opinion on the reform. Two days ago the senators of the Socialist Party met with the Ministry of Education to analyze the reform initiative, according to El Mercurio. After the meeting, Rabindranath Quinteros, one of the senators of the party, said that the party is trying to decide what exactly should be reformed in terms of higher education and that they hope to create a document soon that showcases to the public their position on the reform.
Much of the reform project, then, remains in flux.
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