Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

Education in Chile: We want the world

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on August 11, 2011

by Patricia Navia for The Economist, August 11th, 2011.

A trial of strength between students and the government.

It began on August 4th with the metallic clink of a few pots and pans. By nightfall, thousands of people were on the streets of Santiago banging kitchenware, a form of protest last heard under the dictatorship of General Pinochet. This time the cacerolazos, as they are called, are being staged in the name of educational Utopia—and in response to a cack-handed government ban on marches.

Chile’s school system is the least bad in Latin America, according to the OECD’s PISA tests, which compare educational attainment across countries. But that does not make it good. And the overall performance hides huge disparities. Analysis done in Chile of the test results in the 65 countries that took part finds that it ranked 64th in terms of the variance of the results according to social class. Rich pupils get good private education; poor ones are condemned to underfunded, dilapidated state-funded schools.

This “educational apartheid” as Mario Waissbluth, a campaigner, puts it, is widely blamed for the fact that Chile remains a highly unequal society, despite its dramatic progress over the past quarter of a century in reducing poverty. “The kids from the posh suburbs study in those suburbs, go to university in those suburbs, get jobs as company executives in those suburbs and employ friends from the schools they went to themselves,” says Mr Waissbluth.

The centre-right government of President Sebastián Piñera agrees. Chile inherited from the dictatorship a voucher system under which the government pays money to the school of the parents’ choice. In November the government unveiled a plan to increase the value of the voucher, especially for the poorest children. As well as trying to attract better teachers to state schools, the government will set up 60 lycée-style “schools of excellence” aimed at bright children from poor families.

Students and teachers responded by demanding the abolition of all for-profit education. After they staged big marches along the Alameda, Santiago’s main thoroughfare, Mr Piñera last month sacked his unpopular education minister. The government also said it would draw some $4 billion from its reserve fund of windfall copper revenue to pay for better schools. (continue reading… )

 

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An expensive handbag fight

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on July 8, 2011

by The Economist – Americas View, July 8th, 2011.

In many countries, teachers’ unions confine themselves to bickering about bureaucracy (in Britain, they even complain when the government tries to remove it). But in Latin America, and especially in Mexico, they are mighty things. Mexico’s National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) is the single biggest union (of any sort, not just education) in Latin America, with more than 1.2m members. Its power is one of the reasons why Mexico’s education system is roughly as good as that of Jordan, which is half as rich.

The union’s boss, Elba Esther Gordillo, is one of Mexico’s most extraordinary political creations. During a lifetime of public service, she has accumulated a fortune that reportedly includes mansions in Mexico City and California and a private jet. “La Maestra” (“the teacher”), as Ms Gordillo likes to be known, was spotted the other day in $1,200 shoes and with a $5,500 handbag, according to a local Mexican paper. The SNTE’s members’ dues run to some $60m a year. A recent audit of one taxpayer-funded education programme found irregularities in the records of 90,000 of its recipients. One teacher was receiving the equivalent of $66,000 a month.

The extent of Ms Gordillo’s political power has recently been revealed in more detail. Last week La Maestra confirmed the long-circulating rumour that before the 2006 election she made a “political arrangement” with Felipe Calderón, now the president, that she would back his candidacy in return for his agreement to appoint allies of hers to posts in the government. Mr Calderón, who won by the narrowest of margins, duly obliged, appointing Miguel Ángel Yunes to head the ISSSTE, the social security agency that deals with public sector workers, including teachers. (continue reading… )

Brazilian education: a long way to go

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on December 15, 2010

by Andrew Downie for Financial Times – Beyond Brics, December 15th, 2010.

Amid all the prizes and praise gathered over eight largely successful years, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva leaves office at the end of this month with one major stain on his record.

His government’s performance on education is atrocious. That was confirmed again Wednesday as almost 10,000 students were forced to resit their university entrance exam after the education ministry messed up. Thousands of the multiple choice papers in the November exam mixed up question and answer pages, confusing students. Adjudicators exacerbated the debacle by giving students conflicting or incorrect information. Their job was not made easier by nonsensical rules that prohibited students from using such things as pencils and rubbers.

The scandal was hardly unforeseen. Last year, the test had to be rewritten after questions were leaked ahead of time and earlier this year a computer glitch inside the ministry made the personal data of
millions of students available online. (continue reading… )