TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Jun17/10)
28 June 2017
Third World Network

Chile's dismantling of market-based policies on education lauded
Published in SUNS #8487 dated 22 June 2017

Geneva, 21 Jun (Kanaga Raja) -- The unprecedented education reforms being ushered in Chile are laudable in that they will dismantle the legacy of market-based approaches in education that have led to a highly segregated and discriminatory education system, a UN human rights expert has said.

In a report to the current thirty-fifth session of the Human Rights Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Mr Kishore Singh, called on the government of Chile to step up the reforms so as to eradicate all profit-seeking forces in all private educational establishments, irrespective of whether they receive a State subsidy or not, so as to restore education as a core public function and social responsibility.

The rights expert undertook an official visit to the country from 28 March to 4 April 2016, and his report was presented at this thirty-fifth session of the Council, taking place here from 6-23 June.

[Mr Singh of India has since been replaced by Ms Kombou Boly Barry of Burkina Faso as the new UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education.]

In his report, the rights expert underlined that it is of paramount importance to safeguard the right to education fully against the forces of privatization, and to maintain education as a public good in line with obligations under international human rights law.

"The unprecedented education reforms being ushered in Chile are laudable in that they will dismantle the legacy of market-based approaches in education that have led to a highly segregated and discriminatory education system," he said.

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the new model of education embraced by the Government, embodying the vision of President Michelle Bachelet, which recognizes education as a right, not as a commodity, and in which for-profit education should have no place.

The Special Rapporteur was also encouraged to see that the emerging national legal system is in accordance with international standards, which constitute the basis of the reforms.

In this context, he said the Inclusive Education Act of 2015 is a significant step in the reform process in that it ensures everyone's entitlement to have access to public education without discrimination or exclusion, free of charge.

"The right to education is therefore no longer determined by economic situation or social status," he added.

Likewise, the focus on promoting quality at all levels of education in Chile is a welcome development.

Policies and laws are being designed to broaden access to public higher education and budgetary support is being increased for candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In addition, new laws and policies currently under development enrich the aims of education with human values and ethics and civic education, as well as professional development for the teaching profession.

He however noted that the challenges implicit in the effective implementation of laws in the field of the right to education, especially the Inclusive Education Act, are enormous in ensuring equitable opportunities for education to all those who remain under-served, especially the victims of poverty.

"Building an inclusive education system is indeed a demanding task, and one in which the Government should spare no effort. Giving concrete shape to the reform agenda calls for more effective implementation of the new laws to promote education as a core public function and to ensure that all private providers assume their social responsibility in the provision of education."

Chile must take all possible measures to discharge its responsibility as the guarantor and regulator of education as everyone's fundamental human right.

Education as a public good should be safeguarded across the entire education system, said the rights expert.

He also called on the State to take appropriate legislative and policy measures to prohibit for-profit education at all levels of education and in all private educational establishments.

"As many private providers seek to maximize profits from education, strict rules and regulations are required to control the financial operations of all private educational establishments, whether or not they are subsidized."

The Special Rapporteur noted that Chile has been significantly marred by the 17 years of military dictatorship (1973-1990) led by General Augusto Pinochet.

His Government pursued a liberal economic policy leading to a path of privatization in education on the basis of market-oriented principles.

The education system that evolved over that period developed mechanisms of selection, allowing schools to charge fees which, de facto, divided society according to families' economic capacity and created a system that reinforced the existing inequalities.

That must be appraised against the alarming expansion of private schools in Chile; 94 per cent of enrolment in those schools is from the wealthiest quintile, while two thirds of those in public schools are from the poorest half of the population.

At present, as a result of the vision embraced by the President, Chile is going through a historic period of transition in education.

The Government has embarked on the process of remedying the devastation caused by almost 30 years of market-based approaches in education, which led to educational disparities, with high levels of school segregation and stratification fraught with structural discrimination.

The current reforms seek to dismantle the grossly inequitable education system that resulted from the pursuit of liberal economic policies in the field of education and to restore education as a public good, putting an end to for-profit education.

A series of new education laws is being adopted in Chile and new bills are under discussion with the aim of dismantling the legacy of market-based policies in education.

"The developing legal framework shows how State obligations under international human rights instruments can be incorporated into the domestic legal order, leading to policy and programmatic measures at the national level."

The Special Rapporteur paid tribute to the President for ushering in far-reaching reforms that recognize education as a right, not a commodity, and for the new education model in which for-profit education has no place.

The report noted that Chile, as a State party to several international human rights instruments, has undertaken legal obligations concerning the right to education.

For example, it has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which covers the right to education comprehensively, and it is a State party to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention against Discrimination in Education, which prohibits any discrimination in education based, inter alia, on national or social origin, economic condition or birth.

Moreover, Chile has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which establishes the right to education and outlaws discrimination based on social origin and property.

The transformations currently under way in the Chilean education system are epitomized by the emerging national legislation in the field of education, which is premised upon the right to education as a constitutional right.

Referring to the Constitution of Chile of 1980, the Special Rapporteur noted that, although the right to education is not included in article 20 of the Constitution, which lists the rights that have constitutional recourse to protection, in proceedings involving violations of human rights, the judiciary's broad interpretation has included the right to education, thus paving the way for its justiciability.

Highlighting some emerging legislative initiatives during the reform process in Chile, the Special Rapporteur pointed out that the Inclusive Education Act of

2015 (No. 20.845), which came into force on 1 March 2016, on the eve of his visit, is a key pillar of the reforms.

It is of paramount importance in providing a legal framework for building an inclusive education system and safeguarding the right to education as an entitlement.

The rights expert said that virtually all the people with whom he spoke during his visit referred to the Act as the most significant step in the reform.

"The Act is key in paving the way in the long term for a paradigm shift in education to the point where the State will assume full responsibility as guardian and protector of the right to education."

He noted that Act No. 20.910 on the establishment of 15 new technical education centres, promulgated in March 2016, is another landmark piece of legislation that contains radical reforms in higher education to widen opportunities to different socioeconomic contexts and respond to the needs and requirements of local and national development.

The Special Rapporteur appreciated the fact that in redesigning the education system and the new legal framework in Chile, reference is systematically being made to international human rights instruments relating to the right to education.

Moreover, new education laws in several key areas in Chile are notable examples in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the General Assembly at the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda, held in September 2015.

During his visit, the Special Rapporteur was extensively briefed by national and local authorities about the bill on the national public education system, colloquially referred to as the "de-municipalisation" bill.

Its main purpose is to restore national control over the management of education, which was decentralized to the municipalities during the dictatorship.

The bill seeks to eliminate social segregation and, like the Act on Inclusive Education, it focuses on equal rights and opportunities, while attempting to achieve comprehensive and inclusive quality education.

The Special Rapporteur also welcomed the bill on the rights of the child, which provides for the financial resources necessary to give all children equal opportunities to access preschool education.

"It bears witness to the high priority Chile gives to the rights of the child," he said.

"Having gone through almost three decades of privatization in the field of education, Chile has some of the deepest and most persistent educational inequalities in Latin America," said Mr Singh.

The current reforms are valuable in that they have clearly triggered a process of national transformation with a paradigm shift.

A new model of education founded on equitable access to good quality public education is taking shape with laws and policies as its foundation.

In 2015, some 49 per cent of children aged 1-5 were enrolled in preschool education with public funding. A concerted effort has been made to make children from the poorest 40 per cent of households eligible for free childcare in creches (under 2) or kindergartens (aged 2 and 3).

The report noted that as regards the provision of basic education, there are currently three types of school in Chile, depending on the way they are funded:

(a) Public schools run by the State and managed mostly by the municipalities, where education is provided free of charge. In 2011, 40 per cent of pupils attended those schools;

(b) State-subsidized private schools, which have shared funding comprising State subsidies and private funding by students' families, almost all of which are managed by private owners. In 2011, 53 per cent of pupils attended those schools;

(c) Independent private schools, entirely funded by students' families who pay the fees charged by the schools. In 2011, 7 per cent of pupils attended those schools.

All three types of school have been serving sharply stratified socioeconomic groups, with 70 per cent of students in municipal public schools from the lowest-income households, against 75 per cent of students in private schools from the highest-income quintile.

In addition, owing to the great variation among municipalities in terms of their capacity, political will and professional skills, the municipal system of education in Chile led to great disparities in quality among public schools.

"Such disparities show the importance of the bill on the national public education system, which seeks to create a national education system of uniform quality, with the overall responsibility of the national Government being to provide better management while decentralized implementation powers are retained at the municipal level."

The 2015 Inclusive Education Act is another landmark piece of legislation in that it is aimed at doing away with disparities in access to education, said the rights expert.

Higher education comprises three types of establishment in Chile: (a) Universities providing professional and technical higher education, which can issue academic degrees; (b) Professional institutes providing both professional and technical education, which cannot issue academic degrees; (c) Technical education centres providing technical higher education.

Professional institutes and technical education centres primarily serve students from the first three lowest-income quintiles.

While enrolment in higher education has significantly increased in recent years, covering some 40 per cent of the population aged between 18- and 24-years-old by 2014, access is still largely determined by family income.

About 80 per cent of students are enrolled in private universities and currently, higher education in Chile is mostly private and very expensive.

The issue of access to education as a right came to the centre of the national debate in the wake of the massive student protests and public demonstrations that took place in 2006 and in 2011 against Chilean privatized education, which has resulted in gross inequities in education.

The Special Rapporteur said that at the time of his visit, the higher education reforms were still being shaped.

They are expected to provide quality assurance and a new accreditation system, create public institutions and modify the financing scheme for research, development and innovation.

The Special Rapporteur trusts that the reforms will include a participatory process and that, when adopted, they will increase institutional capacity to absorb the growing number of students and will improve the quality, capacity and funding of higher education institutions.

The Special Rapporteur also highlighted some of the key challenges in implementing the reform agenda.

He said that the challenges implicit in implementing the laws in the field of the right to education, especially the Inclusive Education Act, are enormous in terms of eliminating segregation, overcoming disparities and promoting an egalitarian and inclusive education system.

He said all those who remain under-served - indigenous people, persons with disabilities, migrants and other marginalized sectors of society, especially victims of poverty - need to be provided with equitable opportunities for education.

The higher level of schooling for urban as compared to rural populations compromises equity, he added.

The privatized system of education in Chile has undermined the provision of public education. "Increased efforts are needed to improve conditions in schools in remote and rural areas and to eliminate disparities in access to quality education between urban and rural areas."

The Government also needs to step up efforts to ensure equal education opportunities for rural and indigenous girls.

There is a large number of indigenous students, and that the number and size of scholarships for indigenous students are too small to allow recipients to cover educational expenses in institutions other than those located in indigenous communities or settlements.

Chile also has to cope with the educational needs of migrants resulting from the influx from neighbouring countries, he said.

The poor quality of public education continues to result in high levels of segregation and discrimination along socioeconomic lines.

"Chile needs to take all measures necessary to eliminate the sharp disparities in quality of education that currently exist between private, subsidized and public schools and to ensure that all schools have adequate infrastructure and suitably trained teaching staff," Mr Singh added.

Privatization in education has thrived on false propaganda, leading to the belief that for-profit private education is of better quality than public education. The findings of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have dispelled such misconceptions.

"Despite their claims, some private schools have poor buildings and the use of short-term contracts and young lower-cost teachers damages the teaching profession. Such schools are not a model for a modern country like Chile," said the Special Rapporteur. +