Chile’s teachers on strike – and that’s why

SANTIAGO – In cities such as Santiago and Concepción teachers protested last Tuesday for better conditions in Chilean education. Around 30,000 people mobilized in the capital in a protest they presented as a warning. So what are their demands?

For about four months, Chilean teachers have been waiting for a proper government response to the many problems the educational sector is suffering from. In a release from the College of Teachers, it’s head for the metropolitan region, Carlos Díaz Marchant, outlined ten proposals they want to discuss with the education ministry, MINEDUC, to improve education.

But the teachers said they haven’t received a response, so they called a strike this Tuesday.  Around 30,000 teachers, according to the teachers college, took to the streets to pressure the government into action.

“All across Chile, as teachers, we protest to give a strong and clear signal that we aren’t going to stand idly, and that we will defend what we consider is fair and necessary to develop our profession in a righteous and dignified way. In Santiago, we moved from Plaza Italia to Echaurren street, in a crowded, pacific, and creative rally,” the teachers college said.

The complaints

The teachers’ main demand is that the government pays a peculiar historical debt that should have been settled decades ago: In 1981, the ministry decreed a salary adjustment for teachers – but it never actually happened. Even worse, salaries didn’t only stagnate, they gradually deteriorated.

Other demands include an end of labor oppression, laws to allow teachers continued professional growth, labor stability, higher education quality, and equal treatment for all educators in Chile.

The new public education law has also been criticized by the teachers. It stipulates that public schools and other educational institutes are directly coordinated by the state through 70 local services attached to MINEDUC.

Unacceptable answer

According to the Universidad de Chile website, Education Minister Gerardo Varela said that some schools won’t necessarily have to transition to the new model. But that would fracture education reform, giving rise to teachers’ scorn and charges of lack of planning, levelled for example by Mario Aguilera, president of the teachers college.

At the protest, Aguilera said “we asked for a meeting with the minister to tackle the public education matter, and we asked him what his plan was. But his answer was that they don’t have any plan. That response is unacceptable.”

The teachers remarked that they will meet with ministry officials on Friday to see if they can solve the matter. But if that fails, measures will intensify: An indefinite national strike is already on the table.

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