Education: A Class Issue

SANTIAGO – Only two state schools featured among the top 50 scoring institutions in the country following the publication of the PSU results last week. This only further raises concerns over the quality of education offered to students in Chile. The results reinforce the complaints of the student groups, who protested against the PSU and government because the education at public schools is lacking.

The Results are in

In the most recent PSU (aka Prueba de Seleccion Universitaria or, in English, “University Selection Test”), which all students must take to be accepted into universities, only two public schools made it into the top 50: the Liceo Agusto D’Halmar de Ñuñoa, which came in seventh with 674 points, and the Liceo Bicentenario de Temuco, which came in 37th with 656 points.

The remaining 48 schools that achieved the highest scores are all private, and many are located in the wealthier districts of the Metropolitan region: Las Condes had 12 schools in the top 50; Lo Barnechea, 10; and Vitacura and Providencia, 8 each. The Instituto Hebreo Dr. Chaim Weizmann-Ort in Lo Barnechea achieved the highest ranking with 692 points.

Education Inequality

The results have raised concerns over the difference between public and private education in Chile. The education system in Chile is divided into state schools, private subsidized schools, and private unsubsidized schools, which are funded entirely by families and private investors. The number of students attending public schools has steadily decreased since the 1980s from 78% to 1981, to under 40% in 2011, while the number of students attending private subsidized schools has increased to over 50% of the student population. An estimated 7% of students attend unsubsidized schools.

As the private institutions received more funding from parents and investors, private schools were able to promote a higher quality of teaching, better facilities, and greater success for students. Those families who are able to afford private education further support the development of these institutions, while state schools still receive the basic funding from the government and are unable to compete on the same level.

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No Más PSU

Student protesters wreaked havoc during the PSU exams in January, arguing that the test favors privately-educated pupils and puts others at a disadvantage. In fact, only 30% of public school pupils score high enough to enroll in University, whereas 43.5% and 79% of pupils from subsidized and unsubsidized schools respectively achieve the required scores.

The rhetoric of the protests of bridging the extreme social divide in Chile is at the forefront of the education issue. ACES, a far-left students’ union for high-schoolers, is petitioning for increased funding for state schools to help reduce the inequality, as well as a reworking of the University entrance exam system to create equal opportunities at higher education for all students. ACES believes that the public schools simply do not have the resources to efficiently teach their students to pass the PSU, and so it is unfair to grant a more successful future to some teenagers just because their families can afford better schooling. Increased support for state schools may help improve that, alongside a different set of university exams.

According to Consuelo Manosalba Torres, Head of Education at Chile Today, education in Chile is not viewed as a human right but instead as a consumer’s privilege. She also comments that there is sometimes a tendency in state schools for teachers to have lower expectations of their students’ capabilities or to place a cap on what the students can learn. Comparatively, students in private schools are continually challenged and encouraged to achieve their potential, ultimately placing them above the state school students.

In order to combat the inequality that exists in the education system, it is necessary to first attack the gaping divide between rich and poor and the stigma which defines working-class families. Perhaps it is also a matter of attitude which prevents state school students from obtaining the top marks, as compared to their richer classmates: they do not receive the same cushioning and encouragement which helps build confidence and determination in young adults.

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