Image from bbc.co.uk
Americans take education for granted. There I said it: someone had to. There is no other explanation that can describe the trend in our culture that makes students loathe going to school, puts pop-culture and sports on pedestals way above academia, and allows only 4% of the country’s GDP to be spent on education. The student protests currently going on in Chile only back up my sentiment: while students in the U.S. are idly preparing to head back to college—where both private and public universities will turn their desire for an education into a lucrative for-profit business, students in Chile are fighting passionately to change the education policy in their country so that all people, poor and rich alike, can have the same opportunities for schooling.
Just today, 139 protesters were arrested for occupying high schools around the country’s capitol, Santiago. This marks the third day of sit-ins, or “tomas” at high schools in Santiago, where students have been protesting for education reform since last year. Things have heated up in the past week, however, following the aftermath of a large-scale march in Santiago that left 73 arrested and 3 city buses burned last Wednesday. Student leaders and Santiago Mayor Pablo Zalaquett have still been unable to reach a compromise. The lack of an agreement is causing more opposition that can quickly turn to violence when protesters refuse to voluntarily disburse and are forced out by riot police using tear gas and pressurized water hoses.
Even amidst all the protests and plunging approval ratings, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has refused to radically alter the education system. He has proposed to spend $1 billion on scholarships and lower student loan interest rates from 6 to 2 percent.
This isn’t near enough for the student leaders, who wish to change the tax system so the rich will pay more, un-privatize the mostly privatized public schools, and eradicate the for-profit attitude of the education world. With both sides unyielding it seems unlikely that the protests will stop anytime soon.
It would be nice if some of this new-age student thought would make its way over the equator and into the U.S. where education is still trampled on by the for-profit attitude and poorer families have a much harder time sending a kid away to college, if they can even afford that. Although for that to happen, education will have to stop being taken for granted, and a gradual shift in our culture would have to occur. But who knows, maybe someday it will, and maybe soon.