Stand up, speak up: Britain's students must learn from their Chilean counterparts to bring about change in education system

In Chile students have set up their own bodies to challenge the government

Share
Related Topics

If Michael Gove thinks he has a difficult job, he should spare a thought for his Chilean counterpart Harald Beyer.

Whilst the Conservative minister’s education policies have been heavily criticised, his actions, like those of his predecessors, have never been subjected to the public scrutiny of those most profoundly affected by them: the schoolchildren.

Beyer’s predicament is rather different. Over the last few years, pupils at schools throughout Santiago have been revolting, occupying classrooms and refusing to leave until their demands for radical education reforms are met.

They are angry that the system has remained largely unchanged since Pinochet introduced reforms in 1981. A third of secondary schools operate as profit making businesses with the government subsidising some private institutions through a voucher system of financing. State schools, which make up less than half of all schools in Chile, are currently funded by local councils which the students allege are neglecting to look after their basic upkeep.

Protest

Together with the university student movement the schoolchildren have generated a level of publicity which has become impossible to ignore. Last month, just three weeks after President Sebastian Piñera had announced a 9.4 per cent increase in education spending for 2013, pupils from the coordinating committee of Chile’s secondary school students (CONES) stood before a mixed congressional committee packed with government representatives, before proceeding to lecture them on their policy failures.

Bold, erudite and eloquent, 17 year old spokesperson Gabriel Gonzalez argued that structural reform, rather than merely increased spending, was necessary. “Our high schools are in utter disrepair because of their decentralisation and the abysmal nature of local council management”, he said. Gonzalez also called on the government to establish a permanent fund for free state schools rather than continue subsidising private schools which require parents to pay fees for their children to attend.

For some reason the prospect of dissident British schoolchildren publicly berating Michael Gove for his "traditional values" curriculum reforms seems almost comical. But while the problems faced by Chile’s youth are incomparable in their scope and gravity to those in the UK, the fundamental principles driving the movement are easily transferable.

The students believe education is a human right rather than a privilege, that nobody should be excluded from that right and most importantly that their suggestions for reforming the system they consider unjust should at the very least be heard by the political establishment.

In England, the task of ‘Promoting the views and best interests of children and young people’ is assigned to the Children’s Commissioner Dr Maggie Atkinson. Whilst it would be unfair to suggest that Dr Atkinson hasn’t performed a valuable function in providing young children with something approaching a political voice, events in Chile make a strong case for older secondary school pupils and sixth form students, particularly across Britain’s poorest state schools, to form their own independent bodies which can challenge those in government on their policies.

Voice

At a time when young people are increasingly accused of political apathy and a lack of interest in school, it could be fascinating to hear what they would make of Gove’s policies – from government cuts on services for the young to the disparate quality of education provided by state and private schools.

Such a development is likely to meet with fierce resistance. Last year Dr Atkinson was heavily criticised when, citing the UN convention on the Rights of the Child, she dared suggest pupils should be given more of a say on educational matters. In a Telegraph blog entitled "Children do not always know what is best for them" the conservative commentator Katherine Birbalsingh mocked the idea that Gove should “take heed” of students’ opinions on his educational policy, reminding Dr Atkinson that pupils already benefit from elected student councils which are involved in the day to day running of some schools.

However, in Chile campaigning pupils have been confronted with resistance of a much more brutal kind, with police violently breaking up their protests and regularly raiding their classrooms. British pupils could do worse than to seek inspiration from their struggle, which has been repaid in the form of a political platform and the knowledge that they have exposed as anachronistic the notion children should be seen and not heard. 

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links