26 Oct 2014

Chile's education reform sparks protest

1:18 pm on 26 October 2014

Tens of thousands of parents in Chile have marched in the capital, Santiago, against a planned education bill which would phase out taxpayer-subsidised schools.

Thousands of Chilean students and parents protest the country's new education system in Santiago.

Tens of thousands of Chilean students and parents are unhappy with the government's proposed education reform. Photo: AFP

The protesting parents say the bill would force them to send their children to under-funded state schools or to private ones they could not afford.

But the Chilean government says the changes would prevent schools that receive public money from making a profit by charging top-up fees.

The BBC's Gideon Long in Santiago said the protest was something of a backlash to a series of demonstrations by students in recent years.

The students had demanded free, quality education for everyone and an end to Chile's highly-privatised school and university system.

Mr Long said President Michelle Bachelet's government heeded that call and sent the radical education bill to Congress.

He said it had tried to explain that the reform would not close subsidised schools and that it wants to promote transparency with public money.

Thousands of Chilean students and their parents march in front of the La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago.

Thousands march in the protest in Santiago. Photo: AFP

Call to maintain compromise system

But Chile's Confederation of Parents and Guardians (Confepa), which organised the latest protest march, said many subsidised schools would close because they would no longer be able to charge top-up fees to students.

"We propose some action against the education abuses that are driven by profit, but our children's subsidy should not be affected," Confepa president Ericka Munoz told AFP.

Confepa groups together middle-class parents who can afford to send their children to subsidised schools.

The organisation, which has been protesting for weeks across Chile, said it wanted to maintain the right of schools that receive public money to also raise funds from students.

Promise of 'thorough reform'

Since 2011, Chile has seen large-scale protests led by a powerful student movement.

High school and university students see Chile's education system, traditionally viewed as the best in Latin America, as profoundly unfair.

They have argued middle-class students have access to some of the best schools while the poor have to be content with under-funded state ones.

In her victory speech last year, President Bachelet promised to carry out a "thorough reform programme".

She campaigned on a promise to spend $15 billion to offer free education, improve health care and reduce income disparity.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs