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article imageHuge student protests paralyze many Chilean cities

By Ken Hanly     Apr 11, 2013 in World
Santiago - Tens of thousands of Chilean students demonstrated in a number of cities on Thursday (April 11) in one of the largest demonstrations ever, demanding free education.
The protests against the for-profit parts of the education system have been ongoing for years. The protests are often so large that they paralyze major cities. Less than half of secondary school students are in public schools and most universities are also for-profit private institutions. No new public universities have been built since 1990.
Although there have been massive non-violent marches, some have also involved violence both on the part of protesters and also police. Thursday's protests were mostly non-violent. Students waved flags, and danced in the street. In 2011 the protests involved thousands dressed as super-heroes, zombie dances, and even mass kiss-ins. As happens in other parts of the world the marches are often infiltrated by violent groups usually with hoods. In today's march they clashed with police. Some threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at police. The police also used force employing water cannons and tear gas.
Student organizers claim protesters in the Chilean capital, Santiago, numbered about 150,000 but city officials claimed there were only about 80,000. Student leader, Camila Vellejo, said the protest showed the strength of the student movement in an election year:"This symbolises that the student and social movement didn't go home and that that the movement is here to stay"
The student protest forced the 2006-10 government of Michelle Bachelet to shuffle her cabinet after successive strikes and even school takeovers by students. Now President Pinera is facing an even bigger headache. Pinera is budgeting for lower rates on student loans. The students however want to do away with for-profit private education entirely.
Chilean students and their families pay among the most in the world out of their own pockets for education. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) statistics show that families in Scandinavian countries pay less than 5 per cent of costs individually out of their pockets. In the US it is more than 40 per cent. However, in Chile it is almost twice that at 75%. Chile has one of the world’s lowest levels of public funding for higher education increasing inequality in Chile according to student leaders.
The students want to take back control of the mostly privatized universities. Bachelet, has returned to Chile and is running for president. She says she will try to end for-profit education if elected: "I believe the education effort must be infinitely more integrating, more inclusive and take care of the quality, of the barriers that block access to financing, of the segregation."
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