Despite more than a year of mass protests that raised hopes across Chile for education reform, few students have seen any real benefits. Politicians and students have hardened their positions, but the system is still rife with poor quality public schools, expensive private universities, unprepared teachers, and banks that profit on loans that most Chileans cannot afford.
“In concrete terms, you could say we have accomplished little or nothing,” student leader Camila Vallejo told The Associated Press in an interview prior to today’s march, which activists said drew 100,000 people.
While refusing to make radical changes to the current system, President Sebastian Pinera has proposed spending nearly $1 billion on thousands of new scholarships, as well as lowering student loan interest from an average of 6% to 2%. He also proposed creating the post of higher education superintendent to oversee colleges and universities, and Education Minister Harald Beyer called on universities to explain by next month just how they’re spending state money.
In reference to demands for free education, Beyer called it an unfair and “backward-looking” policy that leads to lower-quality higher education and to poor taxpayers supporting wealthy students.