(Chile) Statement of the Convergence Against the Government’s Student Educational Reforms

Translated from Convergencia Estudiantil (10 December 2010)

Since the military coup of 1973 the various governments in the service of the rich and powerful have been promoting a thorough process of privatisation and elitist reorientation of education.  This history has been marked by several milestones, which we shall specify:

First Milestone: reforms contained in the 1980 Constitution.

The military dictatorship that was installed on 11 September 1973 was not only aimed at the annihilation of consciousness, popular organisation and the destruction of a profound transformation project; another of the core goals was to lay the groundwork for the perpetuation of this new political and economic system in the midst of the annihilation of popular forces.

The day of 24 September 1973 old militants of the conservative right in conjunction with the neo-liberals who graduated from the School of Economics and Law School at the Catholic University, were the first “Commission for the Study of the new Constitution”.  At the head of it was the former minister of justice of the right-wing government of Jorge Alessandri Rodríguez, Enrique Ortuzar.  The commission submitted the draft constitution in late 1978 to a specially appointed board handpicked by the junta.  Two years later, in mid-1980, the project had gone through all the reviews and approvals, including that of Pinochet and former President Alessandri Rodríguez.  Thus on 11 September 1980, in full “State of Siege” and with a political opposition fragmented and prevented to demonstrate publicly, the new Constitution plebiscite was issued from the more perverse depths of the military dictatorship; and approved under a multitude of irregularities in a totally flawed ‘democratic’ process.

This new legal framework for our country ensured the super-exploitation of the working class, and at the same time strengthened the reproduction of these conditions of exploitation.  With regard to education, and consistent with the interests of the ruling classes, the State was going to renege on the responsibility to provide education to all and at all levels.  The new Constitution pointed out that education “aims at the full development of the person at different stages of his life”, with parents left with the right and the duty to deliver education to their children.  The role of the State was limited only to “provid[ing] special protection for the exercise of this right” for parents, through fully funding basic education, whilst only “promot[ing]” early childhood education, secondary and higher education, in other words they would not be funded by the state (these rights would extend much later during the governments of the Concertación[1], reaching middle school and nursery).  In this way the State is completely detached from the responsibility of providing quality education for all and at all levels, leaving the parents with sole responsibility for this important task (regardless of whether the families had the economic capacity to comply with it).  In this way they succeeded in reducing state involvement in the process of educating to its minimum expression.

The Constitution stipulates the participation of the “community” in the process of educating with the aim to reinforce the duty of parents in this area, a particular point that directly promoted the participation of private providers of education, albeit with a view to profit.  The State’s concerns limited to regulating institutions that provide education under a Basic Constitutional Law, and not interference, importantly, through the subsidisation of education.

Second Milestone: the Organic Constitutional Law on Teaching (LOCE).

The Organic Constitutional Law on Teaching (LOCE), or simply Act No. 18,962 , was enacted on 10 March 1990 (24 hours before the inauguration of Patricio Aylwin), and was preceded years before by the act of municipalisation of education and the law on subsidisation. The ideas contained in the LOCE can be briefly summarised by the following points:

  • Minimisation of state spending on education by ensuring only minimum levels of access free of charge.
  • Decentralisation of the administrative responsibility of the State, with this responsibility entrusted to municipalities.
  • The State, by means of the MINEDUC[2], would only minimally regulated establishments.

Under new regulations, the LOCE arrives to crown the process of liberalisation of education in Chile, driven from the outset by the military dictatorship and ending decisively with the State administrator, conductor and dean of education.  Now the State adopts a single entity that subsidizes different social spheres, be they education, health, welfare, work, etc.

Since the implementation of the LOCE a string of laws that refine the education system step by step followed, such as the Ley Marco, the implementation of the Jornada Escolar Completa, the Crédito con Aval del Estado[3], amongst others.

In the year 2006 there was an explosion of multiple mobilisations that risk jeopardizing the Bachelet administration; secondary school students focused their attacks on the LOCE and demanded from the streets and occupied secondary schools the change in the organic law.  Faced with a political disaster which paralyzes nearly all students in the country, the government had no choice but to work for the modification of the LOCE, forming a specialized council that after a year of work would result in a project called the General Education Law (LGE), which would be passed by both chambers on 17 August 2009.

The LGE incorporates several reforms to the former LOCE, among them: the reduction of primary education by two years, and it increases secondary school by two, laying down some mechanisms for schools to not discriminate economically students at the time of selection and increase the requirements for becoming holder of a subsidised establishment. The series of reforms is purely cosmetic; the substance remains virtually the same as the LOCE.

It is within this scenario that the new government-sponsored reforms come to position themselves as the third major milestone in the history in the destruction of Chilean education.

The Third Milestone: The New Educational Reform.

The government has begun with mergers and closures of municipal schools, has also decreased the hours of history and social sciences, and aims to change the Teachers’ Statute by liberalising the labour market of workers in education, advancing from exploitation to super-exploitation.

Merger and closure of municipal schools: since the implementation in the 80’s of municipalisation, primary and secondary education began to decline in quality in a brutal fashion, little by little the municipal schools began to bleed; with this growing poor quality of public education, families opted to make the extraordinary effort to pay for a subsidized college thus potentially provide a little better future for their children.  There were exceptions where good level of education were maintained, as with the National Institute and Carmela Carvajal and a handful of others, which are transformed during the 90’s into the so-called flagship schools, due to their better academic results than the rest of the municipal secondary schools, over time these schools became elitist, now with the scarce presence of poor people among its enrolled.

Under this logic, the government has proposed and carried forward the idea of increasing the elite colleges to at least 50, expanding coverage to approximately 50,000 students out of the 1 million students in secondary education.  The more than 950,000 remaining students must conform to the low performance high schools or permanently move to subsidised schools.  To press this migration, the government has gradually began to close or merge schools, with the excuse of low yields.  This has left hundreds of students on the streets and teachers without work.  At present, nearly 50 high schools have closed, in the poorest communities and regions of the country, as in the Araucanía region (which has the highest regional index of poverty in the country) and in the communes of Cerro Navia and Maipu.

Decrease in hours of History and Social Sciences: From the year 2011, all students from the fifth year of primary until second year of secondary school there will be a one hour reduction in classes of history and social sciences, according to the government, because of the need to improve reading comprehension, which can only be solved by increasing the hours of language study. The ministry of education believes that it is necessary to “know how to read and understand what is read” to move forward in improving the quality of education.

However, those who concentrate in their hands the political and economic power, seek to eliminate discussion spaces that promote the development of knowledge, debate, critical analysis and the general themes of politics and society.  On the other hand, it is trying to hide our history, by keeping the society steeped in ignorance… it is a good method to subdue, dominate and exploit without receiving any resistance.  Thus with a deft and subtle touch, it is the poorest students who will suffer the consequences, while the children of the rich will continue to receive an enriched and complete education.  This explains the reduction in hours of history, more than those of other, dispensable subjects such as, for example, religion.

Reform of the Teachers’ Statute: teachers, unlike the vast majority of Chile’s workers, have a Labor Code different, which has enabled them to remain on the fringes of increasingly precarious labour.  What the government wants is to seize these advantages by implementing “voluntary retirement” which would allow teachers to retire early.  Also the heads of the institutions would have a special allocation, which would enable them renew the teaching staff by 5 %, affecting teachers who obtain poor results in the assessment of teaching.  Another lethal blow is the decrease in hours, which in recent weeks has left hundreds of teachers on the street.

The Background of the Reforms

Beyond the State’s pursuit for these specific reforms or the draft bill that you want to discuss with urgency in the congress, it is the background to the reforms we are most interested in highlighting in this statement:

For those sectors in power, the crisis of education occurs by inefficient use and of resources and expenditure, and is represented in lower yield (quality), ie, an unequal education system is not the problem, the real conflict for them are the low standards of performance, so (as a consequence of neoliberalism) the different sectors linked to the political and economic power have proposed a series of formulas and methods to modify this reality: more or less state intervention, more or less funding, more or less regulation of the market, more or less instruments and tools, etc.  Considerations that are always utilitarianism: How do we make education more useful to us at a lowest cost, serving a functional role to the capitalist system?

In practice, it is not difficult to conclude, is that those in power are liquidating the last vestiges of public education in Chile.  These days are the preparation of conditions to make education fully serve the interests of exploitation and the capitalist accumulation model, by stabbing directly and coldly the hearts of the students and the poorest families in our country.

The ‘Organised’ Response

It is no revelation to say that only the organised response of the people may contain, or in the best cases: reverse the policies that have been pushing against our class.  This need for “organisation and struggle” to get ahead has formed the parts of speech and proposals of many, but despite the fact that such speech is correct and widely disseminated, in practice this has not happened.  We have a student movement totally eroded, worn so much defeat, left scattered politically and ideologically, fragmented, atomised and fighting between themselves, and worse yet, within this left, we have a revolutionary left even more dispersed, devoid of a social and politically based historic project, busily engaged in fratricidal struggles with itself, deepening the defeat and the crisis even further. This year was a sad reflection of the above.

A few demonstrations at the beginning of semester, motivated by the rise in Transantiago ticket prices, made us think that perhaps this year it would have been possible to articulate a vigorous student movement, but in practice, beyond the medial demand for a freeze or rate reduction, a few seconds on television, or a few days in public opinion, we were unable to articulate anything serious, much less were able to get a victory, however small this would have been.  More than ever, we noted the differences between political organizations, the lack of actual content and the absence of a unified will to confront the right wing government, the ministry of education and the policies of privatisation.

This year it was not possible to position demands or petitions identifiable to all students nor which offered a way out from the immediate problems, simply everything came to nothing: Neither the CONFECH[4], nor the ephemeral AME[5], managed to channel the needs of students.  The CONFECH failed to achieve hegemony in the student movement to get them out of their classrooms to protest the timid demands they made, neither could they coopt sufficient strength in order to negotiate from the top and back to the students (as they always do) the claims covering only the most elite sectors of traditional universities.  With the lack of grassroots work, legitimacy and coherent policy and proposals, they have passed the buck.

On the other hand AME launched into factional strife, and despite all the potential it showed in the first meetings with mass attendance, could not overcome the hyper-ideological policies of some political organisations, the fractionalist discourses, the lust for power and appearances of some, and so on.  AME was destroyed from the inside, before even being born.

On the other hand, secondary school students headed by ACES[6], and assisted by the AES[7], with a more radical discourse and pragmatic actions was able to articulate a small movement, equipped with very concrete historic demands; however, despite the media coverage of certain actions such as the taking of public institutions and high schools, also failed to exceed three thousand students in the streets, and no momentous triumph in their demands.

Social & Political Unity

Political and social unity is becoming increasingly urgent, it is necessary that we, the student organisations sit down to talk and discuss, to overcome the differences which in many cases are more human than political, and work for an organised response of the poor students.

Comrades, the struggle is for education to serve the people and workers, if we do not do so today… tomorrow will be too late for our people.

From the Student Convergence, we make a sincere appeal to:

UNITE, WORK AND STRUGGLE FOR AN EDUCATION FOR THE PEOPLE!

FOR SOCIAL AND POLITICAL UNITY OF THE PEOPLE TO FIGHT!

TO CREATE, BUILD A STUDENT CONVERGENCE!


[1]  Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia (The Concert of Parties for Democracy), a broad coalition that emerged from the anti-Pinochet resistance (although it excluded the MIR and other revolutionary organisations). The first government of the Concertación marks the start of post-Pinochet governance following the Dec. 1989 election victory of Christian Democrat Patricio Aylwin.

[2]  Ministerio de Educación de Chile (The Ministry of Education of Chile)

[3] Framework Law, Full School Day & Credit Guaranteed by the State, respectively; the latter is a bit like HECS, on crack.

[4] La Confederación de Estudiantes de Chile (The Confederation of Students of Chile)

[5] La Asamblea Metropolitana de Estudiantes (The Metropolitan Assembly of Students)

[6] Asamblea Coordinadora de Estudiantes Secundarios (Coordinating Assembly of Secondary School Students)
[7]  Asamblea de Estudiantes Secundarios (Assembly of High School Students)

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