Student protests for educational equity in Chile: Carlos Casarino Gonzales with Estrella Olivares-Orellana

Carlos Casarino Gonzales

Carlos Casarino Gonzales

The following interview was conducted in Spanish and translated into English. To read a version in Spanish, click here.

Chile is the Latin American country with the third largest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita and the greatest income inequality among the 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Since 2006, Chilean students have organized to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the inequality of the Chilean education system. Such demonstrations erupted in May 2011, with an eight month long occupancy of various universities. This became a nationwide movement that lasted three years. In its peak, over 800,000 students flooded the streets of Chile enjoying the support of 81% of the population.

Carlos Casarino Gonzalez is a history education student at the Universidad Católica Cardenal Silva Henríquez. Previously, he was a student at the Universidad de Artes y Ciencias Sociales, ARCIS, but a series of events in 2014, including numerous protests and conflicts within the university, made him transfer institutions. At ARCIS, Carlos was a spokesman for the junior class, which allowed him to witness the internal conflicts and financial mishandling that led to months of cancelled classes, unpaid wages and demonstrations culminating in the loss of an entire year of classes and many students transferring to other institutions, as was his case.

Here, with Estrella Olivares-Orellana, Carlos shares how the constant fights against the government, and the appeals to parliament seeking a solution to the educational problems of Chile, culminated in the student demonstrations of recent years. This struggle, according to Carlos, has existed since his third year of high school.

For Carlos, who examines the situation as a future teacher, this struggle of nearly nine years, of which he has been an active participant, was worth the effort to see an improvement in the Chilean education system.

ESTRELLA OLIVARES-ORELLANA

How did students begin organizing protests to demand educational equality?

CARLOS CASARINO GONZALEZ

It began in 2011 with the occupation of some universities (Universidad de Chile, Universidad Central de Chile, Universidad de Santiago de Chile, Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la Educación UMCE, etc.) as a result of internal conflicts. Students began demanding free and quality education as opposed to the system in place, which had been implemented by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

ESTRELLA OLIVARES-ORELLANA

When did you begin participating in these protests and what led you to join them?

CARLOS CASARINO GONZALEZ

I was in high school when I became involved with what was called the “penguin revolution” (because of students protesting in school uniforms) in 2006. This movement was supported by almost all schools in Chile, private, municipal and subsidized. School-aged students took to the streets and occupied schools, exerting tremendous pressure against the government of Michelle Bachelet. Since then, I have actively participated in demonstrations, occupations, forums and university assemblies.

ESTRELLA OLIVARES-ORELLANA

Did any events serve as focal points for this revolutionary process? What were they?

CARLOS CASARINO GONZALEZ

There were several. The occupations and demonstrations at the Universidad de Chile, Universidad Central, and Instituto Nacional.The fact that the government of President Sebastián Piñera was more reactionary against demonstrations, which generated a constant struggle against special forces of the police. This caused repudiation and public hatred to police actions and the political management of the government of Sebastián Piñera. Also, there were the large numbers of people who came out to march in each protest. At one point there was a participation of more than 100,000 demonstrators. These facts show you that united, you can change things. The general support of the citizens is essential; in the end most of the students joined their peers.

ESTRELLA OLIVARES-ORELLANA

Students protesting in Chile.

Students protesting in Chile.

What role did the media play in these manifestations?

CARLOS CASARINO GONZALEZ

The media played in favor of the government. Therefore, this “revolution” was portrayed solely as social disorder and vandalism. It is vital to note the importance afforded by the Internet and its unrestricted access for the people of Chile. The availability of real and unmanaged information was one of the crucial points that lead to the rapid union of forces between secondary and university students.

ESTRELLA OLIVARES-ORELLANA

What role did professors play in these demonstrations?

CARLOS CASARINO GONZALEZ

Here we must make a distinction. There are two kinds of educators: those who support and those who do not. Those who support the movement understand the need to change the system to improve the living and studying conditions of students. They also understand the change needed to improve the teaching profession and work life of educators. Here is an example of their work life: it consists of spending almost 45 hours a week teaching without having the opportunity to plan their lessons, to prepare for exams, or to assist and stay in touch with parents, which is fundamental for the education process. This problem generates a constant repetition of lessons. The same information is given again and again, without modifying its contents or methodology. In addition, they receive low wages, they work over-time and do so under less than ideal conditions. So, yes, there was great support from teachers who understood what Chile was going through at the time. The Colegio de Profesores (the union organization of teachers) also supported the mobilization as an institution. They were present in manifestations. However, there is a large group of educators who are in a different social, economic, and political status. They are in favor of depressing this movement and all its effects in order to maintain their employment status and living conditions. They seek to perpetuate the current system that governs Chilean education. The support and unity of teachers afforded great strength to the student movement. It gave it a more serious tone and it showed that this was not just a game or a tantrum as the government of Sebastián Piñera wanted to portray it.

ESTRELLA OLIVARES-ORELLANA

Who represented the largest opposing forces to the manifestations?

CARLOS CASARINO GONZALEZ

They were and continue to be represented by the country’s right political parties of Unión Demócrata Independiente, UDI, and Renovación Nacional, RN. These parties have power in parliament and prevalence with the population. Their political and economic power makes them the main enemy of social changes demanded by the country, especially with regard to education. They have simply gone against all projects and legislative proposals to amend the educational system. This was the case when they were the ruling government and is the case now with their power in parliament.

ESTRELLA OLIVARES-ORELLANA

How did the government respond originally?

CARLOS CASARINO GONZALEZ

The government responded with rejection, both in 2006 and in 2011. The governments of Michelle Bachelet and Sebastián Piñera rejected all manifestations. They tried decreasing the movement, dividing the students, appeasing with direct police force, decreasing occupations, and generating opposition from citizens with direct support from the media. In my opinion, the media was the main enemy of the movement in both periods. In short, there was no support for the process or movement from the government. They believed it was destined to fail because students would lose interest to fight if went on for too long. Fortunately history says otherwise.

ESTRELLA OLIVARES-ORELLANA

The Chilean Interior Minister, Rodrigo Peñailillo, announced recently that university education will be free in Chile from 2016. Was this the ultimate goal of the protests? How do you explain the evolution of the Chilean education system since demonstrations began until now?

CARLOS CASARINO GONZALEZ

Clearly, this is not the end of the process. It is very necessary for education to be free, both for schools and universities. But it is even more necessary for the inequality in its content to cease. One social class receives one type of education and the other a very different type. Literally, some are educated to lead and others to be led. The difference between private and non-private schools is drastic. I experienced this first hand, as I attended both types of schools. This is a key point in the fight for the vindication of social education. Another point is to improve the status of teachers. There are many teachers who have poor training because of universities that were created simply to profit; the content of their careers was focused meeting a business need. Another very important point is for education to cease being mostly managed by the private sector. State institutions should manage it. These, among other requirements, are necessary to generate real change in the system. To accept only free education, which is very important, would be to accept being shortchanged.

ESTRELLA OLIVARES-ORELLANA

In your personal opinion, do you see this step as a political move or as a real outcome of the struggle of young Chileans?

CARLOS CASARINO GONZALEZ

It is clearly a political move, but one that satisfied what the people demanded. It was the strength of the people what resulted in real change.

ESTRELLA OLIVARES-ORELLANA

How do you see the future for primary, secondary, and tertiary education?

CARLOS CASARINO GONZALEZ

For the first two, there will now be some change. Many of the privately subsidized schools will now pass onto the hands of the state, with a different administration and development. We hope that, with time, education there will improve. Another big step would be to end the Prueba de Seclección Universitaria, PSU, a standardized test for admission to higher education in Chile. We also need improvement in the status and conditions of the teaching profession. On the other hand, the struggle for college students is not over. The process has just begun and it must continue. Much remains to be done and demanded. If 40 years have destroyed the country, maybe that same time is needed and more to recover the losses during the dictatorship. As an active participant and with many others, we will continue continuity in the struggle.

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

Estrella Olivares-Orellana

Estrella Olivares-Orellana (contributing editor) is a doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her scholarly interests are in the areas of bilingual and bicultural education, science education in bilingual settings and the academic experiences of immigrant students. Presently, she is conducting qualitative research with students who have been classified as presenting interrupted formal education. She is also a part-time instructor in the department of Arts & Humanities at Teachers College and a full-time bilingual science teacher at a high school in the suburbs of New York. Estrella holds an Ed.M. in International Educational Development from Teachers College and a B.S. in Biochemistry from SUNY, Stony Brook. She is a native of Chile but lived many years in Argentina before migrating to the U.S. in 1994.

 

 

For more information on educational change in Chile:

The search for a more equitable education system in Chile (IEN)

Proposals for change in Chile (IEN)

Private, subsidized schools in Chile (IEN)

Quality assurance in Chile (Different context, same issues?) (IEN)

Jose Weinstein on systemic change in Chile (Lead the Change)

One thought on “Student protests for educational equity in Chile: Carlos Casarino Gonzales with Estrella Olivares-Orellana

  1. Pingback: Student protests for educational equity in Chile: Carlos Casarino Gonzales with Estrella Olivares-Orellana | Esteem

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s