Chile’s private education defenders oppose Bachelet’s reforms
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Chile’s private education defenders oppose Bachelet’s reforms

Parents and representatives of private education are speaking out against President Michelle Bachelet’s proposals to reform the education system.

Allied under the Confederation of Parents and Representatives of Subsidized Private Education (Confepa, for its name in Spanish), they have described the changes as an affront to their freedom to choose education for their children.

Senators Andrés Allamand of the National Renewal (RN) party and Hernán Larraín of the Independent Democratic Union (UDI) have said a presidential advisory committee should be set up to address the university reforms. Allamand said the group would be made up of governors from all types of higher education institutions.

“The commission would gather the expertise of all the universities and as such, help the government not to repeat the mistakes they have made before,” Allamand said.

Larraín added, “The education reform proposed by the government has already seen setbacks, is misunderstood by the people and is rejected by those it concerns in the field of subsidized private education.”

Larraín went on to denounce ‘substantial disagreements’ within different sectors of government and political parties around the reform’s content, priorities and reach.

Parents against reforms

Representatives of subsidized private schools marched earlier this month against the school system reform to end profit in education, co-payment and the recruitment policies of universities that receive State subsidy.

They demanded the government withdraw the bill, which is due to be sent to Congress, and have asked to be included in further discussions.

“We want education reforms in Chile, but we don’t want our children to be considered second-class citizens for being in the schools we freely chose for them; rather, they have the same rights as other children to receive state funding,” said Confepa’s President Erika Muñoz.

Confepa has argued that parents should be allowed to pay for a better education for their children if they are able and choose to do so.

Governmental gaffe

Education Minister Nicolás Eyzaguirre sparked a controversy on Sunday when he said education would only be free for the duration of a four-year degree and that students would have to pay for any further studies.

“We will honor our objective of free universal education effectively. Four years of study – the duration of a degree – seems a sensible goal to achieve” Eyzaguirre told El Mercurio.

Although Eyzaguirre subsequently claimed his comments were misunderstood and that he was referring to the duration of the degree and not to the funding, President Bachelet had to reaffirm her commitment to free education on Monday.

Attending an event alongside Eyzaguirre, she said:

“There will be free higher education for all young people studying in universities and technical institutions who have signed an agreement with the State, which will define the reform, because we want free education, and quality education.”

She explained that the bill will be sent to Congress to define the mechanisms for providing free education, before rolling out a consultation across the country.

Bachelet also said the Education Reform will include English as a Second Language as a core subject on the curriculum, alongside arts, sciences, philosophy, sports and citizenship.

On Wednesday, Eyzaguirre met with deputies and senators of the Party for Democracy (PPD), of which he is a member, to send a clear signal of unity about the coming reforms.