THE 1973 military coup that knocked the socialist government of Salvador Allende Out of office is fast fading into history. But the legacy of the coup is still a matter of concern for Chile’s ten million people. In fact, the country’s leader, General Pinochet, is having to put up with increasingly virulent opposition. . Popular dissent refuses to be muzzled and in recent months there have been increasingly bold moves by thousands of middle-class Chileans fed up with the economic mess the military has made.
Even those who welcomed the military takeover are now saying ‘enough is enough’.
Companies are falling like nine pins and unemployment is conservatively estimated at 25 per cent.
Although protest is widespread it is being spearheaded by university students, a fact which must have General Pinochet’s education advisers scratching their heads. Because a drastically revamped education system was to be one of the main planks in the junta’s plan to forge the ‘new’ Chilean character —acquiescent, uncritical and patriotic.
Motivated by a ‘be who pays, gets’ philosophy the military has all but abolished Chile’s health and social security network The state education system in particular has undergone major surgery. The first step was to replace thousands of ’subversive’ teachers and education officials with junta supporters — all strictly controlled by military overseers. As in Nazi Germany, schools and universities were purged and sometimes closed. Books were confiscated and burned and students sympathetic to the Allende government were harrassed, expelled and murdered.
In 1973 alone over a third of the students at the University of Concepcion were expelled and more than 30 per cent of college and university teachers dismissed. The educational reforms of the 60s and early 70s gave way to a numbing conformity. The curriculum was radically pared to reflect the new order. Scientific rationality is paramount. For example, the industrial revolution is supposed to be taught without any reference to its disruptive social consequences. Social sciences in general are discouraged and a new emphasis has been placed on the virtues of patriotism, discipline, the martial ethic and ‘Western Christian beliefs’.
The junta’s long term plan for education centred on two clear strategies. The first was to push more of the financial obligations onto the shoulders of local government and municipalities. The second was a pay-as-you-learn approach. Those who could pay would get schooling, those who could not would effectively be condemned to illiteracy. This attempt to push education into the marketplace ran counter to the liberal beliefs of free, universal schooling deeply ingrained in Chilean society.
For more than a century successive governments had in theory accepted the responsibility of providing education. But it was only during the 1 960s under the Christian Democrats that major reforms occurred. The Christian Democrats believed that economic development was closely linked to the wellbeing and education of the entire population and that investment in the latter would ensure the success of the former. Backed by the US-led Alliance for Progress, Christian Democrat leader Eduardo Frei went on an education spending spree. Fifteen hundred schools were built in 1964 alone. By 1970 the number of children completing primary school had jumped from barely 30 per cent to over half and similar improvements were registered at the secondary level.
Nevertheless the number of poor working class and peasant children finishing secondary education still remained low. Despite their success in sheer numbers, the Christian Democrats had their detractors, especially on the left. The education system was still blasted as hierarchical and permeated with alien, largely American values.
Salvador Allende’ s Popular Unity government came to power with the belief that school must become an integrated element of that big school which is society’.
A national education plan was hammered out with a number of key aims.
• to break down the divisions between mental and manual labour
• to encourage working class and peasant children to attend school and
• to integrate school into society
However, the national plan never really got off the ground. Some cultural and community centres were set up for adult education and literacy training (the number of adult learners shot up fivefold from 1970—73). Primary school enrolment gradually increased to over 90 per cent and the number of university students tripled. But more radical reforms were shunted aside as US attempts to destabilize the Popular Unity government knocked the Chilean economy into a tailspin.
Today, the state educational system has been virtually dismantled and education is a privilege rather than a right. The education budget has dropped from over 22 per cent of public spending in 1970 to less than 11 per cent. Secondary education is no longer free and those attending primary school must spend about $10 a month for books and materials. When many families earn less than $20 a month the impact on the poor has been immediate and disastrous. The dropout rate for poor children has mushroomed to over 60 per cent in some areas.
Higher education has been radically reorganised and savagely cut The universities have been ’rationalised’ so that the curricula meet the approval of the regime. Military officers have been installed as rectors and deans to ensure ‘purity of direction’.
The clampdown also includes rewriting course guidelines to reflect the military’s no-nonsense view of social inequalities. For example, a presidential decree on education issued in 1980 insisted that ‘it is most important that the teacher is absolutely convinced that people deserve and are happy in what they are and not what they do or possess. Only then is it possible to give orientation to many of the children in our schools and not to raise false hopes. Insist from primary school level that only the most outstanding will go to university; that most of them — depending on the school — will have secondary education, or they will start work. You must support the student and convince him that only a few will reach university’.
Despite the dramatic turnaround the military regime has not stifled all innovation in education. Ironically the Pinochet government’s policy of restricting access to education has spawned dozens of unofficial community groups— often church-backed. Working with those the junta has effectively pushed to the wall, these groups are trying to keep alive the idea that education should be used not for repression but liberation.