Chilean Teachers Prefer to Strike than Play Ball with Reform


EspañolWhile the eyes of the continent are focused on the Copa América soccer tournament, Chilean teachers begin their fourth week on strike, protesting proposed education reforms that threaten to make significant changes to their profession.

On Wednesday, June 17, teachers and professors from across the country convened in Santiago to demand legislators withdraw the Teaching Profession Bill, currently being debated in the Chilean Congress.

Chilean teachers begin their fourth week on strike. (Twitter)
Chilean teachers begin their fourth week on strike. (@jope_as)

Those protesting claim teachers were not consulted by the Education Commission or the Ministry of Education at the time the controversial bill was written, and feel that their rights have been violated.

In their call for lawmakers to withdraw the bill, teachers and student leaders highlighted 11 issues with the legislation, including the implementation of certification exams, changes in salary and performance evaluations, and an overall “reduction of rights.”

The College of Teachers of Chile (CPC) said in a press release that they were pleased by the more than 200,000 teachers that have turned out to protest throughout the country.

“More than 130 buses arrived in Santiago from several regions across the country, demonstrating a large organizational deployment with great support and enthusiasm. The strike continues throughout the whole country, with 95 percent of public-school teachers participating and many from charter schools joining in as well,” CPC Chairman Jaime Gajardo said.

On Friday, June 12, the Congress suspended debate on the bill in an effort to build a dialogue between lawmakers, the Ministry of Education, and the CPC.

CPC’s national assembly, however, voted on Thursday, June 18, to continue the strike indefinitely.

“National Assembly: delegates are debating the document submitted by the Education Committee.”

“Despite all the pressures, we will continue for as long as it’s necessary,” Jorge Abedrapo, chairman of CPC’s metropolitan chapter, said. “The [bill’s] implementation will lead to a competitive education market, and we are opposed to this and consider education a social right. We say no to certification, which is a central part of this bill.”

Meritocracy for Teachers?

According to a May 11 CPC poll, 97 percent of Chilean teachers disapprove of the eduction reforms spearheaded by President Michelle Bachelet.

Camila Vallejo, congresswoman for the Communist Youth Party and president of the Education Committee, says she considers the request to shelve the project “nonsense.”

“The request to withdraw the bill is, from my point of view, nonsense for the objectives of school teachers, because it leaves us unable to influence and help with a real teaching career. If they simply withdraw the bill, which the executive has already said they will not do, all that we’re left with, unfortunately, is to reject the idea of legislating,” she said.

Among the major points of disagreement within the original bill is a proposal for salary adjustments based on the academic performance of each teacher, which would be determined by a rating system developed by the government.

For more than three weeks, the strike has caused 2,200 charter schools to shut down, and over a million students to be out of class.

The bill, however, is tied to one of the more highly anticipated education reforms promised by President Bachelet: a plan for the government to cover all university tuition for low-income students by 2016.

Incentivizing Education

Former Education Minister Harald Beyer says the proposal’s value is in the way it will incentivize high-performing teachers. He insists the bill will change the face of the Chilean education system by “attacking one of its fundamental problems, which is the need to attract and retain the best teachers to produce high-quality education.”

Beyer notes that teacher salaries are presently based primarily on experience, while job performance only accounts for 5 percent of an educator’s income.

“We want to change this. Everyone will start at the same level, and then be able to progress, as time goes on, to a true career based on their commitment, skills, and knowledge. They will climb up and be recognized as professionals throughout all of Chile.”

The former minister believes this will give all teachers the same opportunity to increase their earnings. “Not everyone will be able to reach the highest level, but everyone will have the opportunity to do so. Today, this option does not exist, and that’s the fundamental change we want to make.”

Translated by Guillermo Jimenez.

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