Tens of thousands march in Chile for better schools

Tens of thousands of students and their supporters packed the streets of this capital Tuesday for a march to demand improvements to Chile's poorly funded public education system.

The demonstration saw far fewer clashes with police than last week's student protests in Santiago.

"The march has been significant in the number of people who have mobilized and because it has taken place without major disruptions to public order," government spokesman Andres Chadwick said.

Convened by organizations representing high school and university students, the march was also supported by educators, grassroots groups and labour unions.

Chilean students took to the streets in large numbers more than 40 times in 2011 to denounce a highly stratified education system that funnels state subsidies to private institutions even as public schools in poor areas struggle.

The protests have continued this year, but Tuesday's mobilization was the first of 2012 to enjoy official backing from teachers and professors unions and other elements of organized labor.

This latest march unfolded in a festive atmosphere and culminated with a concert in Santiago's Blanco Encalada neighbourhood.

Smaller demonstrations took place Tuesday in other Chilean cities, including Concepcion, Temuco, Punta Arenas, Valparaiso, Viña del Mar and Antofagasta.

"Today there is a majority of the people who are fighting for a common goal, which is to recover our right to public, free and quality education for all Chileans," the vice president of the Chile Students Federation, Camila Vallejo, told the media. The largely peaceful march on Tuesday came after weeks of protests that included student occupations of Santiago high schools punctuated by police operations to evict the occupiers.

Chile's public schools and universities were neglected by the 1973-1990 dictatorship of the late Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who embraced doctrinaire free market policies.

Private schools mushroomed under the military regime and the trend continued after democracy was restored, even during the 1990-2010 tenure of the center-left Concertacion coalition.

Comments (+)