Thursday, June 30, 2011

Student Strikes: "Taking" the Schools

A couple of years ago, I wrote a fairly frustrated post about the Chilean practice of students tomando (literally, "taking") their schools. Things haven't changed. In fact, these past weeks have been more chaotic than ever, with news of student demonstrations being reported not only locally but in papers around the world. Thirty schools in Iquique alone were taken over, with hundreds more in cities throughout Chile.

Why make such a scandal? In an effort to answer that question, yesterday I took it upon myself to do some research into the latest string of protests and what exactly the students demand and the teacher's union wants. One statement I found was on Wikipedia:
The students demands a nationalization of the education on all levels, free travel passes and a stop to the covered privatization that had taken place after in the reconstruction of schools by private corporations after the 2010 Chile earthquake that damaged many schools.
Not directly stated but certainly one of the primary reasons students and teachers are protesting, is the quality of public education debate. This is the one area that I can truly understand and with which I agree there is matter for serious concern.

As I've written in previous posts such as this one, school in Chile is big business and big money - that is, if you are fortunate to be able to choose private or semi-private schooling for your children. These types of schools are individually owned and in our experience, at every school function there is a public nod of recognition to the owner/s (called sostenedores or "sustainers.") It's frankly a little odd to our American mindset. Not surprisingly the school owners tend to be quite wealthy and the school is their business venture. Sometimes there is a tension between the trained educators at the school who want to make decisions based on (obviously) education, and the owners who make decisions based primarily on finances. Only recently (in the past couple of years) was a law passed requiring owners to also be trained as educators.

Even so, these schools are considered to provide a much higher quality education that their public counterparts. Therein lies the arguably warranted frustration for many.

However, are school takeovers the answer? I think not, especially since over and over again it has been demonstrated that delinquents seize this opportunity to wreak havoc, steal and vandalize school property, and attack anyone else who doesn't do as they say. Case in point, my colleague told me this morning that students from her children's high school were receiving threatening messages (as in, "I will wait outside the school and beat you up") via e-mail and Facebook should they not participate in a scheduled protest.

And at our kids' elementary school, we were advised to send them in non-uniform clothing today to try and disguise the fact that they were not participating in today's nationwide strike. Getting them to school was very "cloak and dagger"-ish, I can assure you! My own trio of Spy Kids.

I suppose it bears mentioning that there are those who are attempting to make their voice heard in more pacifistic ways, such as performing Michael Jackson's Thriller in front of the presidential palace and dramatizing mock mass suicides in metro stations around the capital city of Santiago. (No, I'm not making this up. I only wish I were.)

Where will it all end? I'm not sure. As of today, the Minister of Education was moving winter vacation up a week for schools in Santiago in hopes of encouraging students to relinquish their takeovers. Apparently it has worked in Iquique, as only 13 schools remained "en toma" as of this morning.

Please pray for Chile. Pray for wisdom and justice (and sanity!) on both side of this ongoing debate. Because more than mere academic education is at stake.

1 comment:

Life with Kaishon said...

Oh my goodness. What a crazy thing to be happening in Chili. Praying for you Steph.