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article imageChilean students take to the streets again in Santiago

By Ken Hanly     Aug 22, 2014 in World
Santiago - Students in Chile are out in force again protesting the slow pace of education reform as thousands of peaceful protesters marched through the capital Santiago yesterday, August 21.
Many student leaders helped elect president Michelle Bachelet of the Socialist Party. Dozens of unidentified people who wore masks turned the protest violent by interrupting the march. They damaged traffic lights, started fires in trash cans and threw sticks and stones at police.
The organizers of the protest claimed there were about 80,000 in total at the protest whereas the Chilean Interior Ministry estimated the number only at 25,000. Some enthusiasts on Twitter put the turnout at 300,000. The demonstration created some major traffic jams near the city center. This is the third major protest by students this year. An article on a protest early in June can be found here, with many photos.
There have been protests in Chile by students since 2011 designed to force reforms and end the system introduced by General Pinochet which included vouchers. Goals include: The end of the Chilean school voucher system, its replacement by a public education system managed by the state. The end of for-profit education. Changes to tax code to better finance education.
In Chile at present only 45 per cent of high school student are in traditional public schools and most universities are also private. Even though university enrollments have increased considerably since the transition to democracy in 1990 no new public universities have been built.
Yesterday's march was billed as the "National March for Education" and organized by numerous student and teacher's group. President Michelle Bachelet was elected in December 2013 with over 62 per cent of the vote partly on a promise of reforming the privatized education system which has been criticized not only for its poor quality but as benefiting the rich.
A proposed reform bill would stop subsidies to for-profit school and do away with some selective entrance guidelines. A second round of reforms scheduled for later this year would also include free university education. Other countries such as Finland also have free post-secondary education. Lorenza Soto, president of the Cooradinating Assembly of Secondary Students(ACES) said: “The government is dealing with this in a highly disorganized way by avoiding citizen participation and believing that [reform] can move forward with [ entrepreneurs of Chile’s Industrial Promotion Society], and the congressional constitutional committee alone”. Max Ferrer , president of the University of Chile's Center for Engineering Students, also complained that students themselves were being left out of the reform process: “We do not understand why President [Michelle Bachelet] cannot prioritize a substantive dialogue with the student movement, which represents society’s interests and not the pockets of few".
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