Demanding Change: Student Mobilization And Neoliberal Education Policy In Chile

Chelcea Boesiger


The purpose of this research project is to examine the context and current dynamics of student mobilization in the fifth region of Chile. The mobilization of university students is the critical point the researcher has been contextualizing and analyzing. Data collected represents the particular experiences and dynamics of a specific community of university students. It is from data collected in this context exploration was continued in discovering the rationale and purpose behind student participation in this nationwide movement. How do the students understand their role in this process, and how do they organize themselves in order to attain social change? Analysis is based on qualitative data collected in the field June/July of 2011 while living in Viña del Mar, Chile. The historical context reaches back to the dictatorship of Pinochet when he abruptly implemented neoliberal policy in many sectors, including education (Ahumada). Following years of dispute and student mobilizations, the structure of education today in Chile is mandated by the General Education Law (Torres). One critical piece of this law is the Preferential School Subsidy Law (SEP law) which doubles the value of the school subsidy (the value of the voucher) received per student for the most economically “vulnerable.” The SEP law is one of the critical linking points of the ongoing structural reality of neoliberal policy. This has provoked the nationwide mobilization of students, teachers, and the general public demanding change. The project is informed by critical theory and analysis of neoliberal education policy in the higher education system of Chile. Data collection involved ethnographic methodology, centered on intentional discussions, interviews, and focus-groups with students, teachers, and other parties. A relevant connection can be made to the neoliberal policy changes occurring across the US. Neoliberal policy framed the recent No Child Left Behind legislation (Public Law 107–110 2002) and the current Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA 2010) has dramatically recurred throughout state level reform proposals across the nation (Winegard). Neoliberal changes most readily seen include privatization, budget cuts to the public school system, and changes in union rights (Walker) (Pastrana). The reactions of students to neoliberal education policy and the devastating results of these policies can provide insight for those working in the U.S. context. The dynamics of student resistance in Chile may offer us examples of effective means to avoid the devastating effects of bad education policy.


Education; Student Mobilization; Chile

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