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Much ado about nothing? Chilean education reform

Major changes are announced in Chilean education through the Ley General de Educación (LGE), which is currently on the Senate floor - the final stage in the legislative process. The new bill promises to put an end to the discriminatory admission policies, dating from the Pinochet era, at Chile’s primary, secondary, and tertiary education levels. It also fosters, among others: the creation of a Quality Assurance Agency that should monitor any evidence of discriminatory selection processes within fee-based private schools and universities, and the creation of a National Education Council to replace the Superior Education Council created under the former dictator.

The current structure and situation of the education sector – a highly stratified system based on socioeconomic status, is due to two major reforms undertaken in the aftermath of the 1980s financial crisis. The first reform involved the decentralisation of education, the management of schools being transferred to municipal governments. This created a major divide between the wealthier municipalities that could afford to redirect significant funds towards schools, and the poorer municipalities. Decentralisation also meant the creation of three types of schools: government-funded public schools; private schools subsidised by the government; and private, fee-paying schools. The second reform introduced a voucher-type education system. Unsurprisingly, the voucher subsidies gravitated around the institutions that could provide a better education – the private schools, which also received public funding. Therefore, the new system ensured that wealthier students had and still have access to quality education, which guarantees their smoother advancement to universities and their choice of careers, while students from low-income families are discriminated against.

Although presented as a revolutionary initiative, the LGE attracted wide criticism from teachers and students alike, for its failure to reform the government’s basic financial strategy and for preserving the structures that have allowed for unequal access to private institutions in the first place. Depending on the Senate vote, it seems that Chile’s education system will either remain untouched or be just minimally changed.

Chilean Ministry of Education