Chile’s Teachers Union Protests Bachelet’s Education Reforms


Chilean teachers and their union are protesting harsher evaluations as the president's administration continues to clash with workers in the education sector.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet increased taxes to raise teachers' wages and eliminate education fees, but new legislation that would link pay with student performance has unions up in arms. Tests would appraise educators' knowledge of their subject areas, and for-profit companies are expected to be involved.

The head of the largest teachers' union, Jaime Gajardo, argued that the mandate could be discriminatory and inspires teachers to neglect real teaching in favor of preparing for evaluations.

Upwards of 300,000 of students at state schools — which amounts to about 2,500 schools, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune — have gone without classes for seven weeks, marking the longest teacher strike in half a century.

Javiera Quiroga of Bloomberg Business quoted Manuel Sepulveda, a Director at the research group Education 2020:

The prolonged strike is worrying and it is damaging the children. [Despite government efforts] it is very likely that the education sector remains in crisis.

Other cities and countries have had teacher strikes over similar issues, including in Mexico last month, Chicago in 2012, Washington, DC, and New York City.

Jeison Ruiz, 18, planned on taking his final exams this December, but since school has been out of session, he's been selling knitting needles outside a local hospital. He described his plight:

All my life plans are on hold. I don't know when they are going to give the final exam, or even who to ask.

Many students joined their teachers in the protests, writes Claudio Uribe of Red Flag, and sixteen high schools are currently being occupied by students. Construction workers have also supported the teachers in return for marching in the construction workers' picket line in June.

On June 27, Bachelet appointed a new education minister, Adriana Delpiano, in an attempt to appease protesters.

Gajardo said that the government is trying its best to reach a workable solution:

The government is opening up to find an exit to the dispute. It's making effort, we recognize that, but it needs to be braver.

There is no evidence that disciplinary tests have a positive impact and improve the quality of education.

The teachers plan to meet soon to vote on ending the protest.

In response to Gajardo appearing to soften his stance, he was physically attacked by other members of the union in Santiago. Protesters struck him, and when he was also threatened with heavy objects, he was taken to a nearby office of the Chilean Communist Party for his safety.

The union's Vice President Ligia Gallegos said after the attack:

They attacked him, it's not acceptable. We can have a thousand disagreements, but that's not appropriate. He continues to be the president of the Teachers Association.

Before its education package is completed, the government must push through two more bills. One will transfer the control of state schools to the education ministry, and the other will slowly introduce free university education.

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