Chilean frustration builds over Pinochet's brand of education. Regime boosts private role, tightens control over curricula
Santiago, Chile — Military rule has radically changed this country's education system. Since seizing power in 1973, Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte has strengthened government control over what is taught in the classroom. His regime has also has sharply cut state funding for schools while encouraging more private involvement in education.
The government says it needed to revamp the curricula of the universities to eliminate the Marxist influences left over from the Allende government it toppled. The emphasis on privatization, it says, introduces more competition into the schools and thus produces better-qualified graduates.
But many students and educators see it differently. They charge that the quality of education has declined and that the school system has become more elitist.
Pinochet's changes include:
Appointing active-duty generals as rectors of the universities.
Imposing strict penalties, including dismissal, on teachers and professors who fail to follow the regime's decisions on what is to be taught in the classroom.
Limiting the degree programs and enrollments in universities and parceling out state aid on the basis of a school's ability to attract the top scorers on the national university entrance exam.
Placing primary and secondary schools under the authority of mayors directly appointed by Pinochet.
The regime's emphasis on the private role in higher education is a recent development. After the 1973 coup against Socialist President Salvador Allende Gossens, the military simply seized control of campuses and swept out those they felt sympathized with Allende rule.
Dr. Patricio Basso, head of the National Association of College Professors, estimates that 10,000 professors and other functionaries were ousted in the early years. Ivan N'unez, Allende's education superintendent, puts the purge figure at 3,000 to 5,000 in the first year alone - or up to 20 percent of the university system.
Whole fields of study seen as ``infiltrated'' were eliminated, among them sociology and political science schools and one of two economics faculties. Curricula were thoroughly revamped in other areas. The government named generals to replace academics as rectors. Many texts were banned, and professors and students quickly learned what topics and ideas to avoid.
In the mid-1970s, university enrollments were cut back sharply, reduced by 20 percent by the end of the decade. A complete restructuring of the system came in 1980. Universities were given exclusive domain over only 12 degree programs, such as law, medicine, agronomy, economics, and engineering. Other courses of study were spun off to some 30 profitmaking schools licensed by the central government.
``This system has sharply increased economic discrimination in higher education,'' Mr. N'unez maintains. ``With university places cut back, middle-class students are displaced to expensive, private technical and professional centers. The effect is to block the poor from educational opportunities and to quash social mobility.''
Credits for the very poor exist, Basso says, but they only partly make up for the sharp rise in fees. And, he says, struggling middle-class families are losing out. ``The average family at that level is spending a third of its income to maintain a student.''
State support for the University of Chile has dropped 62 percent since 1974. Hardest hit are professors' salaries, which now range from $200 to $600 a month, forcing them to moonlight, often to the detriment of their classroom performance. Basso says a system-wide strike is possible if the 1987 budget results in more firings.
In primary and secondary education, the regime has increased support for private schools and decentralized the system in a way critics fear will aid political control. Ministry of Education statistics show that the proportion of state funds used to subsidize private schools rose from 10 percent in 1981 to 21 percent in 1985.
Management of the schools was given last year to 400 municipalities, each run by a mayor appointed by Pinochet. This was greeted by an outburst of protests by high school students, who feared their schools' loss of academic independence. Hundreds of students in Santiago were arrested. There was also concern that cutbacks would force schools to become for-profit institutions charging tuition.
Fernando Reyes, a former leader of the Federation of Secondary School Students, predicts further ``very strong'' reactions. Many students are finding as the school year now begins that there is no room for them because of cutbacks. This is ``coming as quite a shock to many people,'' he says. Protest marches have already taken place in Rancagua, a city south of Santiago.
The restructuring had an immediate effect on teachers, who lost their status as state employees and all accompanying benefits, such as fixed pay scales and job security. ``Now, instead of one Pinochet we are dealing with 400,'' says Osvaldo Verdugo, president of the Chilean Teachers Association.
As professors, teachers, students, and parents talk about the state of Chilean education, there is a pervading sense of deep frustration bordering on despair. Deteriorating conditions and quality of instruction, the burden of rising fees, and continuing heavy-handed political control weigh heavily on those trying to obtain or deliver educational skills. Again and again, students suggest that their only hope for an improvement in conditions is a change at the top, the end of military rule. Little wonder that the country's campuses, 13 years after wholesale purges and full-scale occupation, are once again centers of political agitation.